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Prachanda and the temple of doom

Despite his recent retractions,popular opposition to the PM is at an all-time high

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire |
January 16, 2009 2:33:17 am

In the past few days,prime minister-cum-’chairman’ Prachanda has been beating some hasty retreats. He had to yield to pressure over his ill-thought out and hurried appointments of Nepali priests in the Pashupatinath temple,and annul it after believers cutting across party lines condemned the act of ‘ sacrilege’.

The first and most sober appeal came from Gyanendra,his first after he ceased to be the king some eight months ago,asking the government to protect the ‘sanctity’ of Pashupatinath and the traditional social and religious amity of Nepal. Prachanda,who heads a political party with a strident ‘anti-America’ and ‘anti-India’ worldview,probably thought that getting rid of Indian priests would widen support at home. But that misfired,as Nepali society favoured protecting the sanctity of lord Pashupatinath. They consistently displayed religiosity without fanaticism. But for the first time,an overwhelming majority of the Hindus who constitute more than 85 per cent of the total population,feared that they would suffer under an ‘atheist government’.

People voted for Prachanda’s party for ‘peace and democracy’,and by now opposing him when he tried to undermine their religious sentiments,their message was equally loud and clear — that the right to religion is a non-negotiable fundamental right in a democracy. In fact,the Supreme Court defended that right as it stayed the new appointments.

But by not honouring the court’s order for five days,the government created a dangerous situation where those who respect constitutional orders,moderate Hindus and fanatics could ally against it. Although many believe that Prachanda is still trying a ‘one step backward and two steps forward policy before he demolishes the people’s right to religion’,there are political forces which believe Nepalis can defeat any authoritarian designs.

Prachanda is now described as worse than King Gyanendra’s last ‘authoritarian avatar’ by the media that supported him for two years. His systematic divide-and-rule policy,attack on the free media and judiciary,and so far unsuccessful attempts to weaken Nepal’s army,have all exposed the Maoists.

And Prachanda has perhaps realised that his credibility has nosedived in less than four months. But to secure his political future,he needs to retain his image of a revolutionary,a successful prime minister and coalition leader. His party therefore,has prepared a political document that blames the US and India for brazen interference in Nepal’s internal affairs. This is also a clear ploy to erase the ‘pro-India’ tag that Prachanda has come to wear since he signed a 12-point agreement in Delhi along with another seven pro-democracy parties aiming to ‘end the absolute monarchy’. The king is gone,but the pro-India tag has stuck,at least within the ‘revolutionary party’ that he heads. Therefore,the coming months will see him and his party in a rabid anti-India mood. The absence of an official reaction from India in the temple affair is being interpreted in many ways; but Nepal’s officialdom unofficially maintains that India’s silence is a departure from its past emphasis that relations are based on ‘shared culture and religion’.

But Maoists have declared,possibly tactically,that the response of some BJP and SP leaders was blatant interference in Nepal’s internal affairs. And Prachanda has also lately stated that the12-point agreement has outlived its utility,and needs to be replaced.

The international community,and India in particular,which pressed for Maoists to join the political mainstream will be as frustrated as the Nepalis who thought Maoists would be the best guarantee for peace in Nepal — but with its days in government numbered,the future of peace in Nepal depends on whether Maoists exit with grace.

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

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