Kathmandu: When he became the new Prime Minister four months ago, Nepal's veteran communist leader Madhav Kumar Nepal was criticised strongly for spurning the verdict of the people, who had voted against him in last year's election, causing him to lose both his constituencies.
This week, the 56-year-old has triggered a fresh controversy after receiving a kiss in public - from former Spice Girl band member Geri Halliwell, also known as 'Sexy Spice' and 'Ginger Spice'.
In an almost replay of the Shilpa Shetty incident in India where Hollywood star Richard Gere created a storm by kissing the Indian actor during a public programme, the 36-year-old British pop star also stoked a debate in conservative Nepal by grabbing the prime minister's hand and placing a peck on his cheek.
Geri had come to Nepal as a brand ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund to take part in a public campaign against violence against women and health issues.
Photographs of the former nightclub singer, dressed in a diaphanous blue-green sari and a sleeveless blouse with a plunging neckline and rubbing cheeks with the Nepali PM continued to be splashed in the dailies even on Friday, 48 hours after the kiss took place.
The Naya Patrika tabloid kicked up a debate, asking celebrities how they liked the Prime Minister's action.
The question produced mixed results with some deploring the kiss, saying it had made Nepal lose his dignity.
However, celebrities in showbiz shrugged it off, saying the kiss projected Nepal as progressive and warm-hearted.
Private daily Nagarik took a pot shot at both Nepal and his predecessor, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, whose party staged a show of might in the capital Friday to reintroduce its demand for a new government under its leadership.
A front-page cartoon showed a wistful Prachanda waving a copy of a newspaper with the kiss photograph before his deputy, former finance minister Baburam Bhattarai.
"Have you seen the PM's photograph?" Prachanda quipped in the cartoon.
"We have to form the government."
The Nepali Times weekly struck a warning note about Nepal's 'fooling around' with Geri.
"Let's not forget Ginger was famous for pinching Prince Charles' royal ass when she was still a Spice Girl," its regular columnist said.
But the most disapproving note came from Ram B Kuwar, a lecturer at a Kathmandu medical college, who said that at a time Nepalis were being urged to take precautions against swine flu, the sight of the Prime Minister "kissing and hugging a foreigner is not exactly the right way to spread awareness”.
"My suggestion to the PM (is)," Kuwar said in Friday's 'Letters to the editor' column in the Kathmandu Post daily, "Please take necessary precautions while greeting foreign dignitaries."
Earlier, a senior official in Nepal's Health Ministry had advocated that the traditional 'namaste' - the demure greeting with folded hands practised by South Asians - was the best form of greeting since it avoided body contact and did not spread the swine flu virus.
First Published: Friday, September 11, 2009, 17:01