Saturday, September 5, 2009

Nepal govt wobbles as Maoists hijack Pashupatinath's sons' legacy

Nepal govt wobbles as Maoists hijack Pashupatinath's sons' legacy

KATHMANDU: When Nepal's first Maoist government fell after only eight months of reign despite a stunning electoral victory, the god-fearing attributed it to the former guerrillas' disrespect for the gods and their bid to control the holy shrine of Pashupatinath.

On Saturday, after the new government of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal failed to protect the Indian priests it had appointed there a week ago and the 5th century temple continued to come under fire, the 22-party ruling alliance wobbled as 15 Terai MPs, in a bolt from the blue, warned they would withdraw support.

The unexpected threat comes from the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Loktantrik), the powerful Madhes party the Nepal government had tried to keep happy by gifting it six out of nine ministries when the cabinet was expanded Wednesday. If the warning is executed, it would be a blow to Deputy Prime Minister Bijay Kumar Gachhedar, who heads the party, and had wrested 28 MPs from the parent party, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, in May.

The original faction, led by former foreign minister Upendra Yadav, is not averse to an alliance with the Maoists and the dissident Gachhedar MPs could return to the original fold, increasing chances of a Maoist recapture of power.

The new development comes as the government remains preoccupied putting out the flame at Pashupatinath. Culture Minister Minendra Kumar Rijal and Indian ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood joined forces to stage a show of solidarity and offer puja at the temple Saturday morning when it was kept closed to all other visitors for fear of a fresh attack on the newly appointed priests.

Girish Bhatt, 33, and Raghavendra Bhatt, 34, the two new priests from Karnataka whose appointment triggered an unprecedented attack on them inside the temple yesterday, were initiated into their official duties today despite the wild protests outside. Protesters carried banners that said "Down with Indian expansionism" and demanded the appointment of Nepali priests.

Police arrested 30 protesters from the Pashupatinath area after the prime minister himself pledged tough action against the attackers. "The government is stunned by the uncivilized barbaric attack," Rijal told the media. "It is an attempt to mar the age-old harmonious relations between India and Nepal. We share the same culture, religion and tradition and Nepali priests perform the puja at the Jagannath temple in Puri and other Indian temples."

The Indian envoy, who was asked by the External Affairs Ministry to convey the Manmohan Singh government's concern to the Nepal government in the strongest terms, said that religion and nationalism should be kept separate. "God doesn't belong to any country," Sood said. "Religion has brought Nepal and India together. We will be able to keep the relationship alive at Pashupatinath and other places."

In India, Nepali priests are appointed at the shrines of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Kashi and several temples in Karnataka.

However, the whole imbroglio is being by Bidur Bhatt and his Nepal Sannyasi Samaj, that had been the first organisation to seek the appointment of Nepali priests at Pashupatinath. "The Maoists have hijacked our movement," Bhatt said. "We had raised the demand 16 years ago."

The Sannyasis – travelling mendicants who are found at all Shiva temples – call themselves the sons of the Hindu god. The Sannyasis have no caste and in many Shiva temples in Nepal, the priests belong to the Sannyasi sect.


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