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'Not a Hindu State': Why Dhirendra Shastri's Visit to Nepal Has Left Many Miffed

Dhirendra Krishna Shastri was invited to Nepal by Binod Chaudhary, owner of the famous Wai Wai noodles brand.

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The recent visit of Dhirendra Krishna Shastri, the 26-year-old self-styled chief priest of Madhya Pradesh's Bageshwar Dham temple, to Nepal, wasn't bereft of controversies.

Shastri, a devotee of Lord Hanuman who's popular as 'Bageshwar Baba', was invited to the neighbouring country from 19-21 August to recite 'Ram Katha'.

The invitation, according to local news reports, came from Nepal's only billionaire Binod Chaudhary's CG Corp Global group, a multinational Nepalese conglomerate that owns 136 businesses globally, including the famous Wai Wai noodles brand. The Chaudhary family is Nepal's wealthiest family.

Chaudhary, 68, has his roots in India with his grandfather having migrated from Rajasthan to Nepal in the late 19th century.

Over the course of three days, thousands of devotees reportedly queued up to hear the 'godman'.

Shastri also had plans to meet Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kumar Dahal ‘Prachanda,’ along with other political and public figures.

However, due to a backlash, which started brewing on X (formerly Twitter) even before he set foot in Nepal, the prime minister purportedly did not attend his event.

What probably made his visit even more contentious is the fact that Binod Chaudhary, who extended the invite to him, holds political office. He is currently a Member of Parliament of Nepal from the Nawalparasi West-1 constituency.

Why did Shastri's visit meet with opposition? What are the allegations against him?

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'Shastri Has Said Even Nepal Should Be a Hindu State'

The act of inviting a controversial figure such as Shastri miffed the country's intellectual circles – with his superstitious beliefs and Hindutva rhetoric coming under attack.

But, more significantly, because of his views on Nepal being a Hindu state, according to senior Nepali journalist Ujjwal Acharya, and Bipin Adhikari, a professor of law at Kathmandu University.

According to an 8 August article, which appeared on Hindi news channel Aaj Tak, Shastri was quoted as saying that "Nepal was, is, and will remain a Hindu state."

"Shastri has announced that he will make India a Hindu state and fight for it. Even the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or Prime Minister Narendra Modi don't not want to make India a Hindu state. Secularism is the very essence of the Indian Constitution. But he is in favor of a Hindu state even in Nepal."
Ujjwal Acharya

Acharya, however, added that religious and political tolerance in Nepal is higher than in India. "Although the Hindu state is discussed from time to time, the use of hatred, malice and violence for it has not been widespread," he added.

Hinduism is the predominant religion in Nepal comprising 81.19 percent of the total population, according to the 2021 census report published by the Central Bureau of Statistics in June 2023. Buddhism is the second most followed religion in the country, followed by Islam.

"We also have minorities in our countries like Buddhists and Christians and Muslims as well Sikhs, and our track record in protecting their rights has been pretty pristine," Adhikari added.

Another Kathmandu-based Nepali journalist, Pranaya SJB Rana, writing for Off the Record, slammed Shastri as "a staunch supporter of Nepal as a Hindu state."

"Shastri’s visit is indicative of a small but growing shift in Nepali life, a rising Hindutva sentiment, fanned by actors both inside and outside," he wrote, adding:

"Chaudhary has endorsed Dhirendra Shastri and everything he stands for. While in Nepal, I’m sure others will add to that endorsement and some of them will probably be politicians and other high-profile actors. Shastri will acquire more than just a veneer of respectability."

The Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, a right-wing party which openly advocates for Nepal being a Hindu state instead of a secular one, however claimed that "too much is being made out of Shastri's visit to Nepal".

"Even gurus such as Sadhguru go on tours outside India to preach and spread the message of God to the people, so why can't Dhirendra Shastri do the same. I don't see people protesting against Sadhguru's visits," the party's spokesperson Mohan Kumar Shrestha told The Quint.

"Why has Shastri's visit caused so much concern? He just came here to spread the message of brotherhood and love."
Mohan Kumar Shrestha, Rashtriya Prajatantra Party
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'Untouchability a Social Evil in Nepal'

Acharya further said that Shastri's views on untouchability could have far-reaching consequences – because "the local population in Nepal can be superstitious".

"What Shastri does is that he openly advocates untouchability through his videos. He also encourages caste discrimination in the public arena in the name of religion. Dalits have been humiliated, and in front of a crowd of tens of thousands. We don't want our people to think that these ideas should be replicated in Nepal," he told The Quint.

Last year, Shastri had received backlash after a video of him rebuffing a man and calling him “untouchable” emerged.

In the video, Shastri is seen calling the man out of the crowd gathered to hear his address. When the man tries to touch his feet, Shastri leans back, saying, “Don’t touch me, you are untouchable”.

"Shastri has also also openly incited people against Muslims and minorities, claimed to have powers to cure diseases and problems, made disparaging remarks about women, and spread rumours that cancer patients were cured by his blessings," Acharya said.

Last month, the self-styled priest had compared women wearing modern clothes to "buffaloes". He was heard saying, "If wearing fewer clothes is a sign of modernisation, then my buffalo is more modern than these women."

In another video circulated last month, he was heard likening women to a "plot of land".

In a viral video, Shastri can be heard saying, “Women, who have got married, have two identities. Vermillion on the head and mangalsutra. Assuming if they don’t have maang ka sindoor or mangalsutra, what do think of them? This plot (of land) is available.”

Similarly, his 'miracle' claims to cure diseases are well documented.

Talking about the 'miracle' cures, Adhikari explained, "A large part of the Nepalese society is poor and illiterate. There are large groups of people in the country who believe in 'miracles'. Such people may fall prey to his money-making schemes in the name of religion and miracles."

A priest at the famous Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, who did not want to be named, alleged that India has a problem of "problematic gurus."

"There are many gurus in India who practise the good side of Hinduism, promote it, promote brotherhood, love, and tolerance. But then, there are also many problematic 'gurus' and 'babas' who preach in robes in India. Dhirendra is flagbearer of such 'babas'."
Priest of Pashupatinath temple

However, Dr Ramchandra Adhikari, chairman of The World Hindu Federation, a non-profit advocacy organisation of Hindu Diaspora communities, downplayed these allegations.

"Shastri did not make any remarks against any of our minority communities or the marginalised people. It should not be given a communal or religious colour," he retorted.

The Quint has reached out to the CG Corp Global group for their reasons to invite Shastri. The article will be updated as and when they respond.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Nepal   Madhya Pradesh   india nepal 

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