Nepal Maoists on fresh collision course with Pashupatinath

January 22nd, 2009 - 4:56 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Jan 22 (IANS) A fortnight after they abandoned the battle to control the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, one of the holiest Hindu shrines in the world, Nepal’s Maoist party is once again gearing up to wage a new battle.Defying a ruling by the Supreme Court that has ordered the Maoist government of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda not to tamper with the organisation till it delivers its verdict, the trust that administers the 17th century temple Thursday began a three-day session to discuss the procedure for appointing new priests.

The Pashupatinath Area Development Trust is headed by the Maoist Minister for Culture and State Restructuring Gopal Kiranti, who is calling the apex court ruling unjust and indicated he is not ready to have Indian priests officiate at the temple.

In an unprecedented scenario last month, worship at the temple was stopped and violence flared up on its premises as the Maoist government sought to remove the Indian priests who have been officiating at the temple as part of a nearly 300-year-old tradition and replace them with its own nominees.

However, the removal of the Indian priests and the appointment of three Nepalis to succeed them triggered widespread opposition. While temple staff and devotees opposed the government move, two influential political parties in neighbouring India also expressed their concern.

Nepal’s major political parties too condemned the move, forcing Prachanda to pledge in parliament that all new appointments would be scrapped and the Indian priests reinstated.

From a social and religious issue, the appointment of priests at the shrine has now also become a legal tussle with three separate groups filing applications at the Supreme Court and asking for a stay on any changes.

While giving in under pressure, the Maoists however have been smarting under the defeat. The Maoist publications in Nepal have been projecting the reinstatement of the Indian priests as a bid by New Delhi to colonise Nepal.

Now with moves starting afresh to choose new priests, the government is again clawing at a wound that has not healed yet.

Though the trust said it was taking suggestions from people to decide on a new appointment policy, it remains to be seen if the process will be transparent.

The Maoist government’s fixation with the religious shrine comes at a time it is under mounting criticism for having failed to deliver on its election promises.

Nepal is reeling under an unprecedented 16-hour daily power outage, breakdown in law and order, outbreak of bird flu in the east and the accumulation of garbage in the capital for 17 days.

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