Tread carefully


The brutal attack on two recently appointed Indian priests in Nepal’s Pashupatinath Temple must be condemned in the strongest terms. The priests were beaten, stripped and paraded by a mob of protestors said to have Maoist backing. The Maoists have denied links with the attackers. However, a religious organisation with links to the Maoists participated in the brutal assault on the priests. Besides, several Maoist activists were part of the mob that entered the temple. The Maoists cannot absolve themselves of responsibility for the violence. The controversy over the Pashupatinath temple’s priests is about a year old. When the Maoists headed the government last year, they threw aside a centuries-old tradition of appointing South Indian Brahmin priests to the temple by sacking them and installing a Nepali as chief priest instead. But the supreme court ordered the Maoists to halt the new appointments and maintain status quo pending resolution of the dispute. The Indian priests were reinstated. With the fall of the Maoists, the new government formed a committee to select new priests. This, the Maoists have opposed on the grounds that it is violation of the apex court order disallowing changes till the issue is resolved.

The Maoists have a point. What is unacceptable is the manner in which they have raised the issue. Assaulting the priests was not the way to register protest. Clearly, the Maoists, though part of the democratic mainstream, are yet to imbibe democratic ways of functioning. If their claims to be a secular party are indeed genuine, they should not be politicising religion. Meddling with religious traditions and issues of faith is harmful to Nepal and does not make the country proud.

It is evident the Maoists, now out of power, are looking for issues on which to rally public support. The temple issue has come in handy to stir anti-India sentiments with which they are seeking to build a Nepali nationalism based on anti-Indian feelings to further their domestic political agenda. Over the past India has been blamed for several of the country’s problems. The Maoists can be expected to step up their anti-India campaign in the coming months. India must be cautious in its response to these developments. An excessive response could find India playing into the Maoists hands. This will not be in India’s interest.

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