The festival that marks ritualistic worship of Goddess Durga for nine days (Navaratra) in almost every Hindu household ends on Vijaya Dashami (October 11). This also is the largest stretch of government holiday, at least seven days, in a row in the country. Almost every top political leader, Prime Minister, President and the former King greeted people customarily through public messages, and the latter two also threw open the otherwise heavily guarded gates, for general people to come and exchange greetings. President Bidhya Bhandari, in Shital Niwas and former King Gyanendra Shah in Nirmal Niwas put rice grain treated with vermilion paste along with barely/corn seedlings (Tika and Jamara) on the forehead of each visitor, a way of offering the Goddess Durga’s ‘Prasad’ and blessings.
Ram Baran Yadav, the first President, and his successor Bhandari both chose to give continuity to the practice held by Kings even after Nepal became a republic in 2008, but the visitors in Nirmal Niwas far outnumbered the one in Shital Niwas yesterday. But interestingly, not only the Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Vice President Nanda Kishore Pun and House speaker Onsari Gharti, all from the Maoist Party, but also all the members of the cabinet avoided going to the President for ‘Tika’, sending across a message that the President is still seen as a ‘Party functionary’.
Former prime Minister K P Oli, Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), and Vice Chairman Bhim Rawal – the party that she belonged to before being elected President exactly a year ago – were the only two notable leaders visiting her for Tika . Of course, Chief of the Army, Police, Armed Police Force and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, went to her in deference to the ‘protocol’ and long held tradition, but absence of many UML leaders including former Prime Ministers Jhalanath Khanal and Madhav Nepal, Deputy Prime Minister Bamdev Gautam also comes as a message that all is not well within the UML itself.
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In Nirmal Niwas, barely three hundred meters away from the President’s house, people waited in long queues, including some in wheel chairs, and many shouted in chorus that Gyanendra must step in to steer the country from the existing political anarchy and prolonged transition. In his customary greetings to the people on the eve of Vijaya Dashami, he had asked them not to delay any further to hold the leaders ruling the country for the past one decade to account for things going wrong. President Bhandari, in her greetings, had wished for a prosperous Nepal with all people having access to equal opportunities.
Prime Minister Dahal said the whole context and meaning of the festival should be ‘reviewed’ in the changed context. That reflected the view of his Party, the Maoists, on the festival, but that clearly will not augur well with the common Nepalis who value their traditions and respect others as well. And clearly, the partisan politics cast its shadow on the traditional cordiality of the festival this time.