‘Secular’ Nepal forgets Muslims on Eid

Kathmandu, Oct 14 (IANS) More than a year after it abolished Hinduism as the state religion and declared itself secular, Nepal, once the world’s only Hindu kingdom, still remains Hindu in its psyche, with the government Sunday failing to extend greetings to Muslims on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr, one of the Muslim festivals.

As Muslims in the parts of sub-continent celebrated Eid Sunday after a month’s fasting, the Nepal Muslim Ittehad Sangh’s petition to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to declare Eid a national holiday fell on deaf ears.

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The secular government however had observed a public holiday Friday to celebrate Ghatasthapana, worshipping a holy pitcher and kicking off the biggest Hindu festival in Nepal that lasts for nearly a fortnight.

Strangely, the prime minister’s office had not issued any public message, extending greetings to the Muslim community.

It was the communists and royalists who rose to the occasion.

The second largest party in the ruling coalition, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), greeted Muslims, wishing for peace and progress.

Madhav Kumar Nepal, chief of the party, hoped the country would soon be able to hold the stalled election and progress to a peaceful and prosperous federal republic.

Earlier this month, Maoist chief Prachanda had issued a statement, extending best wishes for Eid.

A former prime minister, Surya Bahadur Thapa, who was appointed by King Gyanendra in 2003, also extended his best wishes as chief of the Rastriya Janashakti Party, hoping for peace, happiness and prosperity.

However, there was no message from the office of the prime minister, who is now also the head of state.

Since this year, Koirala has been observing all the Hindu festivals, including recently offering worship to Nepal’s living goddess, the Kumari, an incident that created a standoff between him and the embattled king with the crowds hailing the monarch and shouting slogans against the premier.

Last month, Nepal experienced one of the worst sectarian violence in its history when the murder of a powerful Muslim landlord in apilavastu triggered killings, arson and looting.

Hundreds of Muslims are said to have fled their homes following the incident, with many of them fleeing to India.

The omission comes even as Koirala is braced for yet another crisis.He needs to hammer out an understanding with the Maoists by Friday or face the possibility of his government coming under attack.

The rebels forced the government to convene a special session of parliament Thursday to discuss if Nepal’s 238-year-old monarchy could be scrapped immediately through a vote among legislators.

The voting was to have been held on coming Tuesday.

However, on Sunday, the Speaker agreed to a request from the UML to postpone the session till Monday to allow the parties more time to try reach an agreement.

If they fail to do so and the vote takes place next Sunday, the Maoists have warned they would oust the Koirala government if they lost the vote.