By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
As it is preparing for its 12th general convention next week, theis witnessing intense competition among its leaders who want to lead it. Several factions have come up and no one knows who is on which side. Also unclear is who among the three contenders for the post of president commands a majority. Seems like a messy democracy in action in the oldest party of Nepal.
The oldest party of, on the other side of the border, selected its leader last week without any signs of acrimony. Gandhi, the incumbent, was reelected president for a record fourth time. No one challenged her. Instead, there was competition among her supporters to propose her name for the post on the last day of filing nominations on Thursday. All in all 55 nomination papers were filed on her behalf.
Two of the largestof the largest democracy in the world may not be entirely democratic when it comes to selecting their top leadership. The domination of the Gandhi family and inheritance of leadership from one member of the family to another has been the tradition of the Congress for long. Similarly the influence of the RSS in the affairs of the BJP is no secret. But vibrant discussions do take place in their organisations and opposing views get enough space to create healthy internal debates. The most impressive part of Indian democracy can be witnessed at the moments of crisis when opposing political parties come together, thrash out differences, and move the nation forward. It is because they have realised that democracy is the biggest asset and weapon that India has to face its grave challenges. For example, in the recently concluded summer session of the parliament the government worked closely with the main opposition party, the BJP, to pass some key bills.
An angry Baba in Tirupati
It was 1 am when I reached Tirupati Balaji temple in Andhra Pradesh two weeks ago. Tired of the long journey from Mahabalipuram via Kanchipuram I was planning to get off the bus and head toward the nearest hotel. God had different plans. I was surprised to see bustling crowds of devotees at that hour of night and shocked to learn that no room was available in the whole of the temple town. I spent the rest of the night along with my co-traveler leaning against a concrete staircase inside a huge hall full of hundreds of people trying to get some sleep. When the day broke we moved towards the temple hoping to get inside for darshan. The richest temple of the world is hidden from the devotees until they pass some barriers. A glimpse of the roof of the temple could be seen from a small hilltop. Devotees wishing to go inside the temple have to pay Indian Rs. 300 so that they could stand in a queue that is supposed to have less people. But that priority queue appeared to be a couple of kilometres long, forget about the regular one that I guessed could have extended several kilometres more. We decided not to go for darshan. As we were moving out of the temple complex we met a yogi, who sported long beards and was clad in a saffron outfit like most yogis. He was furious with the temple authorities for not letting him inside. “They say I have to pay money to enter temple,” he complained. “And I have problem with these South people. I don’t understand their language.”
The yogi belonged to Haridwar in north India and spoke Hindi and English. But many people in south India don’t speak Hindi. The security guards and some vendors on the street who the yogi had tried to talk to didn’t understand English as well. That had frustrated the yogi. Plus, he found the denial of entrance particularly insulting. It took me no time to realise that the denial had hurt his yogic ego big time. “What are they trying to do here?” he asked. “Are these people running a temple or a business in the name of God? I have visited many temples in south India—Rameswaram, Meenaxi—but nobody stopped me at the gate. How can a yogi like me pay money to enter a temple?”
Without stopping a penniless yogi from entering, no temple can become the richest in the world, I thought.
The tourism department of Tamil Nadu government has recently decided to attract more religious tourists from Nepal. V. Irai Abu, secretary at Tamil Nadu’s Tourism and Culture Department, was recently in Kathmandu to attend a workshop. He was quoted by IANS as saying that his “wanted to use this opportunity to showcase the tourist spots of Tamil Nadu in Nepal. When we spoke to a few friends from the media, we understood that the people of Nepal know South India as a region and Tamil Nadu as a state. Tamil Nadu has around 34,000 temples, some of which are mammoth and magnificent.”
Despite the geographic and language barriers Nepalis can be spotted everywhere in TN (mostly as waiters though). If you are planning to visit south India I have a place to recommend. Three hours drive from Chennai is a small town called Mahabalipuram that has the combination of beach and rocks. Rocks are adorned with astonishing carvings. After walking on the beach explore those monolith temples. You will cherish the moment for a long time to come.
This article first appeared in today’s Kathmandu Post