Krishnanagar, a dusty, sleepy border town in Nepal's Kapilavastu district, suddenly woke up to a bustle recently, with a tent city coming up in the middle of nowhere to house guests from all over the world - India, Nepal, the UK, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
Mufti of Haramsharif holy mosque in Mecca Dr Wasiullah Abbas at Krishnanagar in Nepal recently. Irshad Siddique/Awadh Nama
The town - on Nepal's southern border with India in Uttar Pradesh - hosted a mega congregation of 500,000 people addressed by Islamic scholars and religious leaders from March 29 to 31.
While religious congregations, known as an Ijtema, are a routine affair at Islamic seminaries, the unusually high scale of this congregation took the Indian authorities by surprise. The importance of the event was borne out by the fact that the mufti of the Haramsharif holy mosque in Mecca, Dr Wasiullah Abbas, was the chief guest.
Krishnanagar, from where movement across the border is unrestricted, has a distinction - it was the constituency of Mirza Dilshad Beg, slain Indian-born Nepali parliamentarian who was close to Pakistani intelligence agency ISI and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.
This time, the intelligence agencies' fear was that terrorists from Pakistan could have easily infiltrated the meet. They are also rattled because another Ijtema is now being planned in May-June in the Tilkana Arabic School in UP's Sidharthnagar district, also bordering Nepal.
And it did not help that most of the participants belonged to the hard-line Ahle Hadees sect, said Mazhar Azad, a journalist who attended the meet. More so because terrorists send in weapons, drugs and fake currency notes from Pakistan to India through Nepal.
A former officer of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), which has been manning the more-than-500-km-long India-Nepal border since 2003, said, "Ever since Hindu Nepal declared itself a secular nation, we have been watching the rapid growth of Islamic religious activities in that country."
Surprisingly, there were about 500 non-Muslim invitees at the Krishnanagar Ijtema, including Congress MP Jagdambika Pal and Samajwadi Party leader and UP assembly speaker Mata Prasad Pandey.
BJP parliamentarian Yogi Adityanath also rang the alarm bell: "I have been raising the issue of the threat to India from across the Nepal border in Parliament and will talk about this religious meet again."
Maulana Shamim Ahmad Nadvi, principal of the Nepal-based Jamia Sirajul Uloom Salfia madrassa that hosted the congregation, argued in response to Adityanath's accusation that as a member of the National Muslim Forum, he had "never found any madrassa giving shelter to militants".
Pal also scoffed at Adityanath's charges. "It was purely an academic session. Not a single incident of anti-national activity has been reported from any madrassa on either side of the border."
The Indian agencies, however, are edgy also because Liaqat Ali Shah, a former Hizbul Mujahideen operative, who was reportedly supposed to surrender to the Indian authorities, was picked up from Sunauli on the India-Nepal border near Gorakhpur on March 19.
SSB chief Avinash Chandra said, "We have been watchful. So far, we haven't received any adverse report on the Krishnanagar Ijtema. But it's the R&AW that keeps an eye on the activities across the borders."