The Pashupatinath affair

India must not allow the Nepalese government’s anti-India moves go unchecked

For 275 years, the priests at Kathmandu’s Pashupatinath Temple have come from "south of the Vindhyas", often from the Udupi and the Dakshina Kannada regions of Karnataka. The temple is one of Nepal’s most important religious institutions, not to mention a major tourist attraction. When Nepal became a republic, the affairs of the temple, previously directly under the king, were placed under the Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT) and the Ministry of Culture. And one of the first actions of the PADT was to replace the Indian priests with Nepali ones. And when there was a popular outcry, and a Supreme Court order staying the new appointments, the Maoists running Nepal’s government sanctimoniously (yes, pun and irony intended) called for the issue not to be "politicised". As if their original decision to destroy a tradition that dates back to a time before the modern state of Nepal came into being was anything but political. (via Sandeep)

Now, Mahabaleshwar Bhatta hardly wields a fraction of the political influence of the Panchen Lama. Yet, the manner in which Pushpa Kamal ‘Prachanda’ Dahal has handled the religious appointment is reminiscent of the Chinese Communist party’s strong-arm tactics concerning the reincarnation of Tibetan monks. Clearly, Nepal’s Maoists are determined to weaken and destroy traditional Nepali society as a precursor to creating their ‘revolutionary’ New Nepal. All this would be Nepal’s domestic business, for the nation to work out through constitutional democratic methods, except for the fact that it directly involves Indian citizens, and indirectly, one element of the deeper links between Nepalese and Indian people.

But Nepal’s Maoist-led government is not going about it in a constitutional-democratic manner. That it seeks to defy a Supreme Court order cannot be a positive sign for Nepal’s nascent new order. India must ensure that the lives and the legitimate interests of its nationals are safeguarded. And to the extent that these moves are an attempt to sever traditional and cultural links between the two countries, India must make it clear that it sees such actions as influencing the course of its Nepal policy.

47 thoughts on “The Pashupatinath affair”

  1. Fair enough..but we (Indian Govt) seems to lack the political will to do so, and more importantly, India may have lost the leverage it had with Nepal.

    So, unless we see an NDA govt at the centre, I am afraid there is nothing we can do in this matter.

  2. Hmm, interfere with the religious matters of another country? Not unless we make a number of noises about “religious intolerance”. And add some stick to that argument (we don’t have any carrots either ways).

    But, a Government that says a different thing on the most Audacious attack during its rule, and then talks about “evidence”, and providing evidence to the perpetrators, well – that wouldn’t do much about a religious matter. More so a Hindu matter.

    By the by, since when did the Acorn take up cudgels (or ask Govt. intervention) on religious matters ?

  3. Nepal is lost to us now, as a practical matter. The high himalayas aren’t the barrier they once used to be. The nightmare scenario is Prachanda inviting PLA bases in Nepal and Beijing taking Kathmandu into and under its N-umbrella.

    Unthinkable?

    Not really. Like Nitin points out, if the brazenness on display is typical and merely the tip of the iceberg, then PRC extending military presence (fro merely military influence now) to Kathmandu (and perhaps, Dhaka) after Islamabad is not that far-fetched.

  4. Sumant,

    Nepal is a strategic buffer state. If it stops being a buffer state then it becomes part of a disputed frontier between India and China. As someone pointed out, if it then also becomes a base for the Chinese armed forces (or other interests hostile to India, more than it already is), then it moves into an altogether different category. It could even end up as another paw of the same cat.

    But I don’t think we need to go so far yet. Clearly, it is desirable for both India and Nepal to resume a strong bilateral relationship, trade, investment, labour, culture etc. Anything that disrupts this, or undermines the capability for its growth is undesirable.

  5. What is wrong with the PADT replacing the Indian priests with the Nepalese priests? Although India’s lordship/influence over Nepal runs high, Nepal is not a part of India is it? And that being the case replacing priests should not be seen as or made out to be (by Acorn) as something despicable and inflammatory.

    Acorn has been a supporter of India’s meddling in its neighbours affairs and as a regular reader of this blog, I have tended to agree on most cases because the case has been pretty strong for intervention. Unfortunately, this time it is not.

  6. Gaurav,

    The reasons are stated in the post. The way to salami slicing is to act early, when the stakes are not high, to signal intention and resolve.

  7. Gaurav, Pashupatinath temple has a history. And priests from South India heading the rituals is a prominent symbol of its history. The temple has not been involved in political affairs of Nepal, but is a major part of Nepal.

    This replacement is happening under the threat of the gun, and Maoists, who claim to be atheists, have no authority nor moral right to meddle in what is essentially a religious affair. Maoists have shown they care very little about Nepal and are just out to build their communist utopia in Nepal.

  8. Nepal is lost.

    Soon Bhutan will follow, then Sikkim, then the entire north east, then assam…they all will disappear into the maw of the chinese beast.

    Ditto for the entire north west, which will be subsumed by pakistan.

    All while we hold candle light vigils for ‘peace in our lifetimes’

    The only place left will be kerala — oops sorry, that will have ceded to Saudi arabia

  9. Nepal is one of the biggest foreign policy failures of India. And the credit goes to UPA. I wonder if it would have been a different story if NDA was in power.

    Hey, what happened to the plans of bringing out hard copy of Pragati?

  10. The methods that the commie louts are choosing to improve the lot of the Nepalis are pretty interesting. It is by harassing and throwing out temple priests. Tells a lot about their priorities, doesn’t it.

    These were more or less the methods of Chairman Mao too. He also started out by replacing the “old” with the “new”. And then went on to butcher millions of people.

    I predict that Nepal is going to turn into a communist dictatorship sooner than later. The commies are not going to win the next election, not at least by fair means. And they are not going to give up power either.

  11. Not alone in Nepal, even inside India in Kerala, and in all other temples.. the traditional thing these commies governemnts want to replace.. In Guruvayur In Sabarimala.. Nepal was part of India. and culturally too Nepal was the only Hindu country. these commies and Maoists want to destruct each tradition. In Kerala if a temple having more income immediately that is hacked by bloody commie Government.. Being a 83% Hindu country and the real History of India.. Bharath have every right to interfere.. Dont be pseudo secular.. guys.

  12. “the Maoists running Nepal’s government sanctimoniously (yes, pun and irony intended) called for the issue not to be “politicised”.”

    Where did we hear this before!!! No wonder psec Congress I was fine with imposing Maoists by destroying the existing Kingdom’s constitution and tradition – if wasn’t so ironic of the way Congress I itself works.

    “All this would be Nepal’s domestic business, for the nation to work out through constitutional democratic methods,”

    Imagine if this happened in the so-called secular India. If head of Catholic religion, ruling another country, in Europe, was denied to make his appointments in rapidly spread churches in Bharat, would that be domestic business? Would pseudo secularists jump up and down that minorities are under assault by the Hindus. May be a UN intervention and dikat? Talking of religious freedom, may be candle lighters forming human chain? May be a minister would be denied visa to visit a western country! It’s domestic matter indeed but only for some people and some religions.

  13. This is ridiculous. Why shouldn’t Nepalis decide about what they can do about their own country ?

    How to handle religious matters is upto them. A democratically elected government has all the rights over a temple that exists inside its dominion. It is upto Nepali people to decide whether they want to have South Indian priests or not.

    In fact, religious heads are a political device. The Anglican church has cut off its links from the pope as a form of declaring independence from Rome. If British people could do that 3 centuries ago, why can’t Nepalis do it now ?

    There are other ways of earning Nepalis’ grace and goodwill than bickering about these temple affairs.

  14. Surely, no one can beat the hypocrisy of the Hindu Right!

    Some Brahmins from Karnataka are usurping the job opportunities of Nepalese and what Nepal gets is a lesson on ‘salami slice’. wow!

    Why humiliate elected governments in neighboring states and later complain of terror activities from their soil? We shall reap what we sow.

  15. This is a precursor to terror activities on Indian soil and the lack of belief of the Nepal Communists in respecting traditions and democracy. India has a right to voice its concern on the way in which this tradition has been broken. If we gently acquiesece, the Nepal Communists will get bolder. The UPA govt will be happy with this development, as they would like to do the same to temples in India too. So they are not going to do anything.

    Unlike Christianity and Islam, Hinduism is not a means of exercising political control over a captive populace. Its not like there is a system of Hindu “clerics” in India who are using the Nepal priests to influence Nepali politics.

  16. (x-posted from offstumped)

    We’ll have to assimilate Nepal in one form or the other to save it from the commies and the dragon’s claws.

    The best way for traditions, religions and culture native to the land to be preserved and to flower fearlessly in Nepal is for Nepal to merge with India- on especially favorable terms like those granted hill states such as Sikkim and Meghalaya (i.e. Domicile needed for land transactions etc).

  17. Vakibs,

    Your argument is contradictory. If you say that religious heads are political devices, then an Indian political intervention is fully justified.

    Nobody disputes the right of the Nepali people to decide for themselves. But the decision is legitimate only if it is constitutional. Else it is mere thuggery.

    The comparison with the Church of England, btw, is bunk. It’s a different religion, different country and different age.

  18. Balaji,

    You are wrong.

    The Acorn can beat the hypocrisy of the ‘Hindu Right’ when it comes to international relations. So if you want to pin the charge of hypocrisy, then you are rest your case, relax and figure out better ways to have a nice day.

  19. Some Brahmins from Karnataka are usurping the job opportunities of Nepalese and what Nepal gets is a lesson on ’salami slice’. wow!

    Ok, I missed it. This is all part of a grand plan to tackle unemployment in Nepal?

  20. Sud,

    We have enough to do to improve the lot of our own people without trying to assimilate this or that country. And let buffers be buffers.

    Realism, in its broadest sense, would suggest we find a way to live as good neighbours. That’s all.

  21. Nitin,

    Tibet too was a buffer not that long ago, dutifully gobbled by the dragon. Nepal may well be next. And unlike Tibet, Nepal is on our side of the Himalaya. The potential for mischief from a Nepal based base is scary. And not at all far-fetched.

    BTW, I am realistic without being a realist simply because I disagree with the premise that international relations are/can be/should be devoid of ethics.

  22. //The comparison with the Church of England, btw, is bunk. It’s a different religion, different country and different age.//

    No it is very valid

    Your inner intention that Nepal’s churched to be controlled by Brahmins is not valid

    Full stop.

  23. Ok, I missed it. This is all part of a grand plan to tackle unemployment in Nepal?

    Doubt it is unemployment related.

    If India were to retaliate in like terms and expel Nepalese citizens working in India, then Nepal’s unemployment numbers will jump an order of magnitude.

    The Maoists are scared that the popular intifada against commie rule in Nepal will coalesce around a nucleus in the yindoo clergy, most famously that of Sri Pashupatinath, arguably the holiest Hindu shrine in the world.

    After ’75 too the discussions between zhou en Lai and his US interlocuters hovered around a pressing concern that India ‘might attempt a Sikkim in Nepal’. Butr that is a whole other story.

  24. //Your argument is contradictory. If you say that religious heads are political devices, then an Indian political intervention is fully justified.//

    Nepali Political Intervention is fully justified

    India has no duty to interfere with a constitutionally elected government in Nepal

    Wondering how even educated people like Nitin just blabber when they find their brahminical hegemony been challenged

  25. <i<India has no duty to interfere with a constitutionally elected government in Nepal

    Hasn’t the new Nepalese constitutional assembly been delayed yet again, inno small measure due to maoist efforts? Sans a new constitution (and these are efforts to redirect where Nepal will go thereafter), how does any group (the maoists, in this case) unilaterally decide on centuries old ties, and in the process reject a supreme court stay order as well?

    >>brahminical hegemony
    Also, the casteist insinuations are a low blow. A non sequiter, a cheap trick at whining and playing victim (force of habit, perhaps?), an admission of a tether-ending inability to engage and further meaningful debate, and boring too. (Hey, dass jus’ my POV. Not claiming to speak for anyone else here).

    /Have a nice day.

  26. You people are unimaginative and weak-kneed. The obvious answer is for India to support Madhesi movement. Let the Communists come into the Madhesi lands to fight them, and get wiped out in the process. The Madhesis have been the only ones so far to give the Communists a sound thrashing. Then at least India can have a buffer state in between.

  27. Acorn says “India must ensure that the lives and the legitimate interests of its nationals are safeguarded”; but it doesn’t like India to be called “hegemonic power” (atleast in SAARC region).

  28. This one sure sounds off. Even in many states in India, there is a “localization” underway in temples with chants and verses rendered in the local languages. Maybe thats where they are going? I dont think Udupi priests are proficient in Nepali.

    Enough *Nepalese* should care for the tradition to keep it going. If they do, it will outlive any temporary purging like Russia going back to their version of Xtianity strong after several decades as communist USSR and our priests will be invited back.

    What we should be doing in the meanwhile is to avoid loudly telling them what to do with their temples and rituals, thats the surest way to have the future rebounding Nepalese be as wary of us as of their Maoists.

    Indian National Interest does not necessarily align with the individual interests of a few priests from southern Karnataka.

  29. Whoa. Lots of commies crawling out of the woodwork. Nitin sure seems to have stirred up a hornest’s nest.

    Comrade Choorakkot, couple of points:

    A tradition that has been going on for 300 years, without any resistance, cannot be “non-local”. If so, then the Bajrang Dal’s moves to eliminate some churches can legitimately be called a desire for localization. Are churches local to India? Of course not. Neither are mosques. Babri Masjid was a great movement for localization. Why do commies hiss a lot and froth at the mouth at these localization movements? Nativity, my friend, nativity. Back to roots.

    Second, just out of curiosity: why are casteism and communism so intertwined? Commies prefer to marry brahmin girls for example; instead of uplifting downtrodden dalit women from Goa. So it’s a bit funny seeing them try and project the Nepali commies’ actions in terms of eliminating brahminism.

    If Hindusim is brahminism, then Christianity is white racism, isn’t it. Who brought Christianity to Goa? The white killers from Portugal. Coming a full circle then, the recent attacks on churches in konkan region must be a rebellion against this acceptance and internalization of white supremacy, don’t you think?

  30. Invalid,

    Acorn says “India must ensure that the lives and the legitimate interests of its nationals are safeguarded”; but it doesn’t like India to be called “hegemonic power” (atleast in SAARC region).

    On the contrary; the argument is that India is the hegemonic power and should stop being ashamed of it, and act as one.

  31. @ Jai_Choorakkot,

    Whether or not the Pashupathinath temple issue is a part of the process of “localization”, is it legitimate for Nepal’s Maoists to defy the supreme court order to carry out this “localization” as you call it?.

    You seem surprisingly silent on this Maoist thuggery,which surely is not in Indian National Interest in the long run. You seem to be letting your anti-right bias cloud your perception of National Interest.

  32. >>is it legitimate for Nepal’s Maoists to defy the supreme court order to carry out this “localization” as you call it?.

    The Maoists are in power. And Nepal is not an evolved democracy. I rather think one set of autocrats were replaced by another.

    So the Supreme Court can be arm-twisted, and the Constitution can be altered. This “constitutionality” argument is not only irrelevant from Indian National interest perspective, but is bound to fall flat too as the Maoists maul the constitution.

    Let’s look at the Maoist’s move in the larger perspective.

    Maoism is, in the evocative words of our friend Chorakkoot, *non-local* to Nepal. It is essentially a Chinese cult. And the Nepali Maoists are China’s Nepali factotums. Their reason for existence is to serve China’s larger goal of converting Nepal into a client state of China. (Their counterparts in India proclaimed that China’s chairman was their chairman). And impediment to achieving that goal is the strong cultural and civilizational ties between India and Nepal. Ergo, these ties must be severed, and antagonism must be cultivated between the two peoples.

    The Pasupathinath controversy must be seen from that perspective. Indian commies know the game, and are quite likely playing their part in it — precisely the reason why they are cheering Prachanda and gang.

    Having China on our Nepali border is not in our interest. Hence must counter these moves, even if the Maoists succeed in rendering them “constitutional”.

  33. “..is it legitimate for Nepal’s Maoists to defy the supreme court order to carry out this “localization” as you call it?…”

    No. of course not. But I am just counselling caution in the steps we take. One of the easiest things our neighbours are able to do is rabble-rouse against the BigBrother, an easy diversion to cover for their failings. Remember Nepal was able to get swept into rage over some (non-?)remarks by Hrithik Roshan!

    BTW localization is just an idea that occurred to me, it would track with what I see happening in and around here. If we have archanes in Tamil, Kannada etc. its only natural if Nepalese are going somewhere similar.

  34. >>its only natural if Nepalese are going somewhere similar.

    It is only as natural as Indians going after non-local symbols like churches, dear Choorakkot.

    ArchanA, by the way, not archane.

  35. @anon

    The Maoist goons have been beating up journalists who dare to write stuff they don’t like. Your Nepali nationalism won’t save you from Maoists. India might.

    And if you read your own papers, you’ll see that Nepalis themselves are up in arms against Prachanda’s thuggery. So whose tail are you holding up? The Maoists, that’s who.

  36. I’ll say let it remain an internal issue of Nepal and India should not interfere. Ideally, religion is something that can affect an entire nation and it is not something that should be left in the hands of another. I don’t know about other states, but in my home state Kerala, the government is technically in charge of the changes in temples.

  37. Nitin,

    Any sensible country would have done the same. This temple is the most important one in Nepal, so its sensible to have Hindu Nepal citizens head it. Religion can easily be mis-used, all the more reason not to have foreigners in important positions.

    Just because Indians happended to head it for 300 yrs does not mean they can or entitled to any such rights in future as well.

    But defying the supreme court is entirely a different issue. I am no left-wing commie but I think this post is off the mark and mixes 2 unrelated issues 🙂

  38. The Nepali Maoists got their country’s status changed from Hindu to secular. What business do they have in interfering in religious affairs of any community, even withing their own state?

    India can and should interfere on humanitarian basis to prevent the secularism of that country. Didn’t the Dravidian parties force interference in Sri Lanka in the name of “genocide”? Well the Maoists are committing cultural genocide as is their won’t.

  39. Nitin,

    I see you advocate active interference in the internal affairs of neighboring states.

    You advocated GoI support for Burmese ‘uprising’. I had disagreed with you then as well saying the ‘uprising’ was no such think at all and would precipice within weeks. Thats what happened. Remember Pranab’s mature statements then?

    Also the case with Srilanka. India is winning the second biggest war against in South Asia without most people even knowing of its involvement. Bcos we let Rajapakse be the boss and also allowed him to flaunt it. Compare that with the bluster of J N Dixit and his sidekick Rajiv Gandhi! Finishing LTTE off will perhaps be Manmohan’s greatest achievement as PM.

    The same applies for Pakistan as well. Supporting Zardari to assert himself will pay rich dividends instead of indulging in rhetoric as Pranab unfortunately did few weeks ago. Remember I had suggested supporting Musharraf too when you ppl were clamoring for DemocraZy there.

  40. Prachanda has backtracked fairly quickly;

    http://www.indianexpress.com/news/prachanda-does-a-uturn-says-indian-priests-to-stay-in-temple/407964/

    and due to heavy *local* protests mostly. A graceful thank you and a message of solidarity to the Nepalese people would be in order. Its this goodwill we stood to damage with heavy-handed overlordship.

    Am I glad there was not anybody in power @ delhi that would have seen incentive to thunder at Nepal and threaten some stick to shore up its domestic constituency at the cost to Indian National Interest.

  41. Sri Lanka acquired weapons from outside right under India’s nose, openly defying Manmohan govt. diktats. Having removed that barrier it was a matter of time before the Sri Lankan army succeeded. And Manmohan is supposed to get credit for this? Talk of making virtue out of necessity.

  42. “Prachanda has backtracked fairly quickly due to heavy *local* protests mostly.”

    There is no real basis to conclude thus. Could be that GOI did put pressure on them. It could also be a tactical retreat by comrade Prachanda since the opposition was mostly whining about constitutional particularity while the issue should have been secular separation between govt. and religious affairs.

    The Maoists behavior clearly amounts to persecution of religion. Isn’t speaking for the persecuted ennobling and not “overlordship?”

  43. Long before the idea of national integration gained currency and caught the fancies of casteist chieftains passing for politicians today, Adi Sankara arranged for Priests from Karnataka to officiate poojas at Pasupathinath temple in Kathmandu, Maharashtrian priests at Rameswaram, Kerala Priests at Badrinath. What the Maoists were trying to do is what they tried to do here without much success. The action at Nepal strikes at the root of Hinduism’s long tradition and if the Government did exert pressure, it did just right. Now, it’s time to turn attention inward, put an end to Marxists appointing atheists on the Boards of Guruvayur and self-proclaimed atheists (read visceral Hindu baiters) in Tamil Nadu calling the shots and counting the cash at Tamil Nadu temples.

  44. @Jai_Choorakkot

    “Am I glad there was not anybody in power @ delhi that would have seen incentive to thunder at Nepal and threaten some stick to shore up its domestic constituency at the cost to Indian National Interest.”

    We all know that you are glad that the BJP isn’t in power. You don’t need to reitirate this at every oppurtunity .You are entitled to be glad for the next four months 🙂

    And I see you have gone from “localization” to “local protests”, eh!

  45. Yes we should be watchful about these developments and proactive too. Spend money to build ties with these countries and have some kind of Military presence also.

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