Pashupatinath wins first battle against new Nepal government

Thursday, February 10, 2011

KATHMANDU - As Nepal’s new Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal Thursday succeeded in swearing in a mini cabinet amidst his allies, the Maoists, refusing to join his government, the new dispensation received its first setback with the apex court criticising the state move to take control of the treasury of Pashupatinath, the republic’s oldest Hindu shrine.

“There will be irreparable damage if the government tries to open the treasury of Pashupatinath,” Supreme Court judges Mohan Prakash Sitaula and Sushil Karki told the state Thursday as they began hearing a public interest litigation filed against the move initiated by the culture ministry and the earlier cabinet.

The legal battle started after the earlier government of Madhav Kumar Nepal decided to open the main treasury of the hallowed 7th century temple, which Hindus believe was padlocked for over 2,000 years and should remain unopened.

The cabinet decided that the main treasury, said to contain fabled riches, should be opened and an inventory made of the valuables it contained.

The ministers also decided while the gold, silver and cash there should be kept in the central bank, other items should be showcased in museums.

Bharat Mani Jangam, Hindu activist who had in the past fought Nepal’s former Maoist government’s decision to sack the Indian priests at the temple, filed a public interest suit in the Supreme Court, asking the apex court to strike down the decision taken by the council of ministers to open the main treasury of the shrine.

In answer to the petition, the two judges Thursday said the treasury should not be tampered with till the dispute was resolved. They also asked the government to explain within 15 days why they were seeking to make such a move.

“The court has been just and wise,” an exultant Jangam said. “If it had allowed the treasury to be rifled, it would have led to sectarian violence and lives may have been lost. The court decision defused the tension.”

The 64-year-old activist says since Nepal became secular in 2006, the government has no right to interfere in religious institutions. While the shrine’s riches should be conserved, it ought to be done legally by enacting an appropriate law.

In 2008-09, the attempt by the then Maoist government to dispense with the centuries-old tradition of appointing only Indian priests at the temple by sacking them triggered widespread condemnation with India’s government and major parties also adding their voices to the protests.

The unprecedented opposition forced the then-prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to rollback the decision after five days.

The move against the treasury was followed by the fall of the Madhav Kumar Nepal government and now, the legal row has become a potentially dangerous legacy of the new and fragile government.

Filed under: Religion

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