lose religion battle in Nepal
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Indo-Asian News Service
Kathmandu, Sep 22 (IANS) Nepal's former Maoist guerrillas,
who had fought successfully against the state army in the
past and brought about the end of the Shah dynasty, were forced
to bite the dust before the powerful Newar community of Kathmandu
valley and pledge not to interfere with traditional religious
The once armed Maoist party, which also abolished Hinduism
as the state religion and transformed the Himalayan kingdom
into a secular republic, had to Sunday backtrack on an ambitious
budget that sought to usher in an economic revolution and
cut down on religious allocations allotted by the Hindu governments
in the past.
Maoist deputy chief and Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai's
Nepali Rs.236 billion ($3.7 billion) budget tabled in the
interim parliament Friday had sought to implement austerity
measures by stopping the allocations earlier made for religious
festivals, most of which ended with animal sacrifices.
Unfortunately for the new Maoist government, the new budget
came at a time the Newars - a community who were the original
inhabitants of Kathmandu and still dominate Nepal's business
and industrial sector - were celebrating their annual Indrajatra
festival that honours the rain god and is attended by the
head of state.
The slashing of funds for the festival triggered a two-day
uproar that saw chaos in pockets of the capital with hundreds
of baton-wielding protesters forcing shops to down shutters
and transport to vanish.
"The protests will continue till we get a public apology
from the finance minister," said Ananda Shrestha, a 30-year-old
Newar who took part in the protests in the posh Durbar Marg
area of the capital. "We regard the curtailment of the
budget an attack on our culture and religion."
The dispute gathered heat with Newar MPs from the opposition
Nepali Congress party as well as other non-Newar lawmakers
from other parties flaying the move in the interim parliament
Newars, who had voted for Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal
Prachanda in the April election, warned that the mistake could
cost the party dear in the next election.
"If the elections were held today, even the prime minister
would be likely to be defeated," said Adarsha Tuladhar,
a member of the outraged community.
Veteran columnist Shyam K.C. Monday asked the government to
begin austerity measures at home - with the ministers.
"The PM, just over a month after assuming office, has
gone on three foreign outings, none of which were really necessary,"
K.C. wrote in his weekly column in the Kathmandu Post daily.
"Does anyone know how much it cost the country to send
the PM on his journeys even as parts of the country burn?"
In the beginning, the government tried to suppress the protests
by deploying riot police.
However, after the situation started going out of control,
the finance minister was forced to open negotiations with
the protesters which ended in a five-point agreement late
The blockade of key roads in the capital was lifted Monday
after the Maoist-led government agreed to restore the slashed
allocations, pay for the medical treatment of the protesters
hurt in clashes with security forces and form a commission
to study the socio-religious traditions prevalent for centuries
and recommend within a month what to do about them.
The protests indicate Nepal still remains deeply religious
and other plans of the Maoists, especially ambitious ones
like scrapping the Kumari or living goddess system, are now
likely to be quietly abandoned.
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