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ISI, not Mumbai mafia, had a role in anit-Hrithik riots in Nepal

ISI, not Mumbai mafia, had a role in anit-Hrithik riots in Nepal

Author: S Balakrishnan
Publication: The Times of India
Date: January 4, 2001
There is little evidence of the Mumbai underworld's hand in the anti-Hrithik Roshan riots which rocked parts of Nepal recently. When the riots first broke out, there were suggestions that the Dawood Ibrahim gang, which was upset with the superstar for declining to act in a film which it had proposed to produce on a benami basis, had instigated the violence. Many observers here poohpoohed this theory, saying that it grossly exaggerated the clout of the underworld.

"If at all the gang wanted to damage Hrithik, it would have chosen Mumbai or some other major Indian city as its arena of protest rather than remote Nepal, whose contribution to Hindi filmdom's revenue is marginal. Even if there is a permanent ban in Nepal on Hrithik's films, it will scarcely affect his star value. Hence, it doesn't make sense for anyone to launch an offensive against him in Nepal," said a leading Indian businessman who has lived here for several decades.

This is not to deny the presence of Mumbai's underworld here. Kathmandu is an important transit point in the international drug trade. Gangsters who want to go to Pakistan from Mumbai, Delhi and other cities often use the Kathmandu-Karachi corridor. Many Mumbai gangsters are known to have Nepalese passports. Last year, the underworld provided logistical support to the Pakistani hijackers of an Indian Airlines flight which had taken off from Kathmandu. "But to attribute the anti-Hrithik riots to Mumbai's underworld is to overestimate its capacity to create mischief here," an Indian diplomat said.

What appears to have happened is that the anti-Hrithik agitation was converted by vested interests, including Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), into an anti-Indian campaign. Later, the anti-Indian movement was hijacked by the nine-party alliance of Leftists and dissidents within the ruling Nepali Congress (NC) and transformed into a movement against the government of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. "When we received the news in mid-December about a few students protesting against Hrithik in Narayangarh, about 150 km from Kathmandu, we found it to be so silly that we decided to spike it," a journalist of The Kathmandu Post said.

But over a period of two weeks, the controversy was systematically fanned into a violent anti-India campaign by the ISI and other agencies which have a substantial presence here. Later, the Leftist alliance and dissidents within the NC got into the act. The main opposition party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), which has 68 MPs in a house of 205, is not playing an activist role and prefers to let the NC crumble under the weight of its own contradictions. But the nine-party alliance, many of whose members have pro-China leanings, are trying to precipitate a crisis by actively exploiting the intra-party struggle in the NC. Many observers here point out that the intense power struggle within the NC, coupled with rampant corruption, high levels of unemployment and a highly-inept government, have provided the perfect setting for a political showdown.

Last year, Mr Koirala had pulled down the government of K.P Bhattarai on the issue of failing law and order. Now, the dissidents led by former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba are giving the ageing Mr Koirala a taste of his own medicine.

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