Nepali Times
The Gorakhpur connection



A railway junction, a line of hotels opposite the station, blaring horns amid a swarm of cycle rickshaws, hoardings of politicians at every street corner, a ramshackle movie hall showing an old Govinda number, and new malls signify that globalisation has arrived in Gorakhpur too.

But the presence of the Gorakhnath temple and the town's proximity to Nepal make Gorakhpur more significant than its size and appearance suggests.

Gorakhpur's politics revolve around the temple and its leadership, who claim a centuries-old link to Nepal's monarchy and are active supporters of Nepal as a Hindu rastra. From the days of Mahant Digvijaynath in the 1940s, who was accused of conspiring in the Mahatma Gandhi assassination but was later acquitted, the temple has backed the Hindu Right in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Nepal.

Mahant Adityanath was a BJP MP, and his anointed successor, Yogi Adityanath, has taken over the political and religious responsibilities. Besides being an MP, he is the national president of the India chapter of the Kathmandu-based Viswa Hindu Mahasangh. He has organised two conferences which were attended by the king's ADC and Hindutva hard-liner, General Bharat Kesari Simha. The Yogi has popular support and was a vocal supporter of royal rule.

In recent months, especially during the UP assembly elections, Adityanath made Nepal a a domestic political issue in Gorakhpur and neighbouring areas. Claiming that the Nepali Maoists were expanding influence in bordering areas and had deep links with Naxalites, Adityanath asked voters to support his candidates to defeat the Maoist agenda.

He is also alleged to have played a role in fomenting the madhesi movement with the same objective - that of weakening the Maoists. The Yogi himself admits to having met madhesi leaders but claims he has not played an active role in Madhes yet (see interview).

But aversion to Maoists is neither restricted to rabid Hindu extremists, nor does it stem only from ideological rivalry. It's all about land and property interests that the eastern UP elite have in Nepal.

"Many have dual citizenship and large landholdings in Nepal and they fear that Maoist land reform will harm their interests," says Manoj Singh, a journalist with the Hindustan daily. "Adityanath himself has property in Nawalparasi where the Maoists had once come to ask for tax."

Pankaj Chaudhary, legislator from Maharajganj district, Amarmani Tripathi, a Gorakhpur leader, Shivendra Singh of the former Sisma princely state and many others are said to directly or indirectly own land in Nepal. "This is not about religion but money," says Yashwant Singh, leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).

Criminals from both UP and Bihar were also said to be hired during the royal regime to be a part of the anti-Maoist vigilante groups active in some tarai districts. Many have stayed behind in Nepal and to continue with crime and weaken the Maoists. Ashok Chaudhary, a Dainik Jagran journalist says: "Nepal is heaven for them right now, given the weakness of the state machinery and proliferation of criminal groups under a political cover."

The prejudice is fuelled by local Hindi media here which portrays the Maoists as an anti-Indian force that aims to extend its influence beyond the border. Almost all local dailies publish stories of Maoist atrocities, both substantiated and unverified, and present them as a looming threat.

The anti-Maoist stance at the top is coupled with a genuine sympathy for the madhesi movement on the ground. "Madhesis are our people. I know what they go through. Their struggle is valid," says Jainath, a dalit rickshaw puller in the border town of Sunauli.

Gorakhpur is possibly the only place in India where aspects of Nepali politics (monarchy, Maoists, madhes) have a deep resonance. But while there are players here who may have engaged in local Nepali politics at a local level, they have neither the ability nor a coherent agenda to influence national politics in India.

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)