Big B cancels Nepal trip due to Pashupatinath row

Kathmandu, Jan 5 (IANS) Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan cancelled his scheduled visit to Nepal this week at the last moment due to the deepening row over the hallowed Pashupatinath temple that has pitted Nepal's Maoist government against priests and Hindu devotees, said a report Monday.

Former Indian defence minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, who was also chief minister of Uttar Pradesh - once one of India's biggest states - and heads the powerful Samajwadi Party, told Nepal's media the Big B, as the veteran actor is popularly known, and billionaire industrialist Anil Ambani were to have accompanied him during his two-day visit to Nepal.

However, the two celebrities decided not to come after a political row and violence erupted in the 17th century temple that is revered by billions of Hindus worldwide.

Yadav, who arrived in Kathmandu Sunday on a private visit at the personal invitation of Nepal's President Ram Baran Yadav, also said he had planned to visit Pashupatinath's shrine Monday.

But he too decided to shelve the idea after the temple row began escalating.

The shrine was dragged into a furious dispute after the Maoist government said three Indian priests engaged almost a decade ago had resigned on health grounds and were replaced by Nepali priests.

The new appointments broke away from a nearly 300-year tradition started by the former kings of Nepal who looked to bringing priests from southern India, considering them to have the deep vedic knowledge required for the elaborate worship at the shrine.

The Nepali assistants of the Indian priests as well as Hindu organisations say the Indian priests were forced to resign. They are also accusing the Maoist government of trying to control the treasury of the icon by appointing their own people.

The dispute has reached Nepal's Supreme Court with three different groups asking the apex court to scrap the new appointments.

On Sunday, the court sent its order to the government, asking for a stay on the new appointments and to allow the Indian priests to continue with the worship till it delivers a verdict on the dispute.

However, the Maoist government is seemingly set on a collision course with the apex court.

The Maoist Minister for Culture and State Restructuring, Gopal Kiranti, Sunday said the Indian priests would not be reinstated. The trust that runs the shrine also appointed two additional priests Sunday in defiance of the court order.

To make matters worse, violence erupted on the temple premises Sunday when a mob, alleged to be Maoists, attacked the Nepali priests and prevented them from holding a press conference. At least 10 people were injured in the scuffle, including a cameraman working for the state-run Nepal Television.

The Maoist anger at the public criticism has been aggravated after former king Gyanendra, whom they deposed this year, expressed concern at the temple turmoil and urged the Maoists to keep the revered shrine out of dispute.

The former guerrillas are also smarting from the call issued by India's Bharatiya Janata Party. Once a supporter of monarchy in Nepal and Hinduism as the state religion, the BJP this week asked Nepal's Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda not to drag the icon into dispute and hurt the sentiments of Hindus worldwide.

Concerned at the growing controversy, the government's ally, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, Monday joined the chorus and asked Prachanda to resolve the row.

Prachanda says the issue has been politicised, making a mountain of a molehill.

His government has announced a three-month countrywide foot march from Monday to defuse the tension.

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