The unprecedented row at Nepal's revered Pashupatinath temple has put Nepal's Maoist government under mounting pressure with former prime minister and current opposition leader Girija Prasad Koirala on Monday asking for the reinstatement of the ousted Indian priests.
Koirala, regarded as the architect of the peace agreement that ended Nepal's 10-year Maoist insurgency and helped the guerrillas return to mainstream politics, on Monday met Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda.
He advised the former guerrilla leader to reinstate Mahabaleshwor Bhatt, the chief priest at the hallowed shrine who had been invited from India's Karnataka state eight years ago, as well as three other Indian priests, who had been his assistants.
On Sunday, the Maoist Minister for Culture and State Restructuring Gopal Kiranti had ruled out reinstating the Indian priests, saying that they had quit voluntarily and their resignations had been accepted by the trust that administers the shrine.
The meeting between Koirala and Prachanda occurred after Koirala received a visit from former Indian defence minister Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Yadav, who had come on a two-day visit to Nepal on Sunday at the personal invitation of Nepal's President Ram Baran Yadav, had held a press conference on Monday before his departure, saying he as agonised by the violence and row engulfing the temple of Pashupatinath, who is worshipped by billions of Hindus worldwide.
The Indian leader said he was returning with a heavy heart since he was compelled to cancel his proposed trip to the 17th century temple due to the growing controversy and urged Prachanda not to drag the deity into a political dispute.
Prachanda will also meet the Nepali president on Monday to discuss how to defuse the row that arose after the unceremonious ouster of the Indian priests and the hasty appointment of Nepali priests in their place without following the appointment procedure.
Though Prachanda and his party have been trying to dismiss the row as making a mountain out of a molehill, it has tarnished the image of his party both at home and abroad.
The Maoists have also crossed swords with the Supreme Court that asked the government to stay new appointments and allow the Indian priests to carry on with their duties.
In an unprecedented gesture of defiance, a mob, alleged to be Maoists, attacked temple staffers on the shrine premises Sunday, accusing them of being Indian puppets who were trying to bring deposed king Gyanendra back.
At least 10 people, including a journalist, were injured in the attack.
On Monday, even the government's biggest ally, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, advised Prachanda not to politicise the appointments.
The government began a foot march Monday saying it would help maintain religious harmony and give an accurate picture of the situation.
However, the claim has few takers.
Koirala said the ouster of the Indian priests was done to create a Maoist stranglehold on the temple just as the rebels have been trying to control the media, which has come under attack several times recently.
The World Hindu Federation, a global body of Hindus, said the Maoists were trying to capture the treasury of Pashupatinath that is reported to contain priceless jewels.