Wednesday, May 24th, 2006
Kathmandu – Venting anger at Nepal’s transformation into a secular state from the world’s only Hindu kingdom, protesters Wednesday shut down Birgunj city, the country’s southern industrial hub, and announced a closure Thursday as well.
Transport came to a standstill in the busy city near the Indian border with protest rallies demanding restoration of Hinduism as the state religion. Snaking across the main roads, demonstrators also vandalised some public vehicles, Nepal1 television channel reported.
The first protests started last week after Nepal’s parliament Thursday unanimously approved a series of changes designed to clip King Gyanendra’s powers drastically, reduce his links with the army and turn Nepal into a secular state.
Though the measures were hailed by ethnic indigenous communities, which follow their own religion, as well as Christian and Muslim organisations, Hindu groups, especially those with political connections, condemned the action.
The World Hindu Federation (WHF), a controversial organisation headed by a former aide of the king, and Shiv Sena Nepal were among the bodies protesting against the conversion.
While the protests had no effect in the capital, they snowballed in Birgunj. After demonstrations, the road linking the Simra airport to the city was blocked Tuesday.
While over eight Hindu organisations, including the WHF and Sena, have announced protest rallies in Birgunj Wednesday evening as well as Thursday, no one has claimed responsibility for the closure Wednesday.
‘The protests could be hijacked by antisocial elements and criminals,’ a government official in Birgunj told IANS.
Last month, when the anti-king protests were at their height, the WHF had celebrated its silver jubilee by holding a lavish programme in Birgunj that was attended by Gyanendra.
WHF chief Bharat Keshar Simha, who had supported the king’s power grab last year and urged Hindus all over the world to support the monarch, told Nepali web site nepalnews.com that his organisation would continue to fight against the parliament’s decision, calling it ‘illegal’ and a ‘conspiracy against the country’.
Simha also told the agency the decision was taken by a handful of people and not acceptable to all Nepalis.
‘If political parties are convinced that the state should be declared secular, they should have courage to go for a referendum and get people’s mandate rather than making a proclamation in an illegal way,’ he said.
The mushrooming protests could lead to riots in Nepal, the agency warned.
It quoted the chief of a Hindu organisation, Chintamani Yogi, principal of Hindu Vidyapeeth, as saying that the harmonious co-existence of several religions in Nepal could be in danger.
‘Muslim brothers sell bangles to Hindu sisters in front of Krishna temple in Lalitpur,’ Yogi said. ‘Such harmony might be destroyed if we try to politicise religious matters.’