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Maoists drag Bachchans into Pashupatinath row

Maoists drag Bachchans into Pashupatinath row

Big B was dragged into the row despite dropping plans to visit the temple.

Kathmandu: Though he dropped his plan to visit Nepal due to the ongoing row over the sacred Hindu shrine of Lord Pashupatinath, India's film icon Amitabh Bachchan has still been dragged into the dispute by the ruling Maoist party.

The protests and violence that erupted at the 17th century temple last month after the Maoist government removed the Indian priests and appointed Nepalis was expected to subside after Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda on Wednesday pledged in parliament that the old priests would be reinstated.

However, the PM's party, smarting under its defeat, on Friday continued its attack on the Indian priests, alleging that they were pocketing the money offered by thousands of devotees at the shrine.

"India's political leaders and film actors as well as royalists have been involved with the temple from the past," the Maoist-affiliated Janadisha daily said Friday.

"According to sources, during one Ram Navami celebration (in the past) renowned Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan's family offered a special worship at the shrine for four hours," the daily said.

"The chief (Indian) priest and Bachchan's family sat inside the temple for four hours while all four gates of the shrine remained shut. During that time, not a single Nepali devotee was allowed to go inside."

The daily added that "soon after that, Nepal's media reported that priceless gems at the temple were missing".

It also said that during the brief period that the new Nepali priests had conducted the ritualistic worship this month, there were records of daily offerings. However, since Thursday, when the Indian priests returned to the Nepal after the government decided to obey a court order, there has been no accounting for the offerings.

In July 2004, Bachchan's actor-wife and member of parliament Jaya Bachchan had visited the shrine along with her son Abhishek, tycoon Anil Ambani and his wife Tina Ambani.

Nepal's Minister for Information and Communications Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who is also the spokesman of the Maoist government, this week alleged that till the appointment of the Nepali priests, Pashupatinath's riches were siphoned off by the former royal family of Nepal and Nepal's southern neighbour India.

The temple dispute began to subside after Nepal's Supreme Court ordered the government to halt new appointments and let the Indian priests continue with their duties till it delivered the final verdict.

Though several Maoist leaders flayed the court order as unjust, Prachanda however agreed to obey it under growing pressure from civil society, Nepal's major political parties and two powerful parties from India, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party.

But his cadres are not ready to let go and Friday's propaganda indicates a bid by them in future to try and discredit the Indian priests, their supporters and even Indian visitors to the temple.
first published:January 09, 2009, 15:25 IST