Many see Dahal’s temple worship as deviation from his Marxist ideologyNepali communists follow Marxism, which talks about dialectical materialism and says religion is an opiate to the people.
While he was still new to mainstream politics after abandoning armed conflict, Prime Minister and CPN (Maoist Centre) chairperson Pushpa Kamal Dahal often repeated one term—“discontinuation of continuity”.
Dahal claimed that his party would bring about changes in the way the country was run, in a departure from the traditional parties’ styles of work. While taking oath as prime minister for the first time in 2008, Dahal appeared in a suit, unlike his predecessors, who put on daura suruwal, a traditional Nepali attire. Dahal and his party leaders said daura suruwal was a symbol of “khas pahade” nationalism, or belief unique to people residing in the hills. He even refused to swear by the name of God, saying that he would rather take the vow in the name of the country and the people as he was accountable to them.
“Breaking the continuity” was reflected in some other actions of Dahal, who had led the armed conflict when his party cadres often shunned Hindu rituals and traditions. On several occasions, his party, while underground, demolished temples and removed idols of gods and goddesses. Dahal blamed the Hindu hegemony as one of the reasons for the age-old discrimination prevailing in the Nepali society and advocated secularism. The Maoist Centre is credited with turning a Hindu nation into secular Nepal.
His dislike for daura suruwal was prevalent until his second stint as prime minister in 2016. However, when he became the prime minister for a third time in December last year, he started to apply his theory of “discontinuation of continuity” upon himself.
Surprising many, Dahal donned daura suruwal for taking the oath of office from then-President Bidya Devi Bhandri on December 26, 2022. On Friday, the third day of his India trip, he engaged in another activity to establish his principle of discontinuity.
After two days of meetings and negotiations with the Indian side, Dahal reached Shree Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain of India’s Madhya Pradesh state. He didn’t just worship at the temple which has one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, shrines believed to be the most sacred abodes of Lord Shiva, but also offered 108 kilograms of rudraksha, stone fruit considered to be sacred by the Hindus, along with Rs51,000 cash. He had taken eight well-wrapped suitcases, filled with stone fruits, from Kathmandu.
In a video circulated on various outlets, Dahal is seen performing aarati at the temple, his body covered in a saffron shawl and a chandan tika on his forehead. He spent hours in one of the most popular Hindu shrines in India which was cleared to allow Dahal and his team exclusive access to rituals.
In an interview with Kantipur, the Post’s sister newspaper, Dahal in India said that the main purpose of his visit to Madhya Pradesh was to observe Indore’s exemplary waste management and learn lessons for the pressing matter back in Kathmandu. On the issue of donning saffron robes, he said he respected all religions equally and that it was the temple’s rule for visitors which he had duly followed. On rudraksha offering, Dahal said that was Foreign Minister NP Saud’s idea and he had joined him in the ritual. He urged all not to see his temple visits as a deviation from his political ideology but his openness after coming to mainstream politics. Dahal stressed the importance of religious sites such as Janakpur and Lumbini in Nepal not merely for worship but for prosperity through religious tourism.
Those who see a shift in Dahal’s behaviour view his move as another episode in the erosion of his revolutionary instincts. “Dahal can give up anything to stick to power. He can compromise on any ideology,” Chandra Kishore, a political commentator, told the Post. “Putting on daura suruwal and worshipping at the Mahakaleshwar temple with so much fanfare are the latest examples of his compromise.”
Observers say Dahal was gradually adopting a practice which he and his party believed to be regressive. Uddhab Pyakurel, who teaches political sociology at Kathmandu University, said the acts of the so-called communist leaders over the years show that they used the communist ideology to appease the marginalised, the poor and underprivileged groups in order to grab power. “Their Pahade Brahmin mindset is exposed, when in power. Dahal and CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli are the latest examples,” Pyakurel told the Post.
He said by offering a special puja at Pashupatinath Temple or by arguing that Lord Ram was born in Nepal’s Thori area, Oli tried to play the Hindu card. In Pyakurel’s view, other leaders including Dahal feel that the UML had benefited from Oli’s strategy, which is why they are treading his path.
“The leaders of the communist parties are more conservative, exploitative and adopt neoliberal ideologies than those who call themselves capitalists,” said Pyakurel.
The communist parties in Nepal follow Marxism which talks about dialectical materialism and says religion is opium to the people. However, in their actions, they are as religious as anyone else.
Some political commentators don’t see Dahal’s longing for religion entirely new. In February 2010, he had worshipped buffalo in Sunsari to get rid of the negative influences of Saturn. “Dahal’s transformation—from worshipping a buffalo to Mahakaleshwar,” political commentator Rajendra Maharjan wrote 0n Twitter.