Anti-Hindi protests grow in Nepal (Lead)

July 26th, 2008 - 5:30 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 26 (IANS) For the fourth day in a row Saturday, tumultuous protests continued in Kathmandu, the Terai plains and other regions of Nepal with thousands of students burning the effigy of newly elected Indian-origin vice-president Parmanand Jha, and demanding an apology from him for taking his oath of office in Hindi. Hordes of students blocked main thoroughfares in the capital while protests were also reported from nearly a dozen districts in the Terai plains and remote districts like Dailekh with political parties as well as socio-political organisations joining the fray.

Under intense public pressure since he was sworn in Wednesday, the embattled vice-president, who was unable to attend office Friday due to the protests, finally broke his silence, saying he was a nationalist with the nation’s interests at heart.

The former Supreme Court judge, who became Nepal’s first vice-president last week after a four-cornered fight, said the issue has been politicised.

Jha, who belongs to the Madhesi community - people of Indian origin living in the Terai plains along the India-Nepal border - told BBC Radio’s Nepali Service that the protests were stoked by a few people with vested interests and did not indicate the response of all Nepalis.

“It was not unconstitutional to take the oath in Hindi,” Jha said. “Over 200,000 people in Nepal speak Hindi.

“I am a nationalist and have the interests of the nation at heart.”

The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, the powerful ethnic party from the Terai that wrested the vice-presidency for Jha, Saturday took up cudgels for him and Hindi, identified in Nepal as neighbour India’s national language.

“They are making a mountain out of a molehill,” party president Upendra Yadav said. “Hindi is also the language of the Terai.”

Jha faces a legal wrangle Sunday when Nepal’s Supreme Court will hear a petition filed by a lawyer asking to either make the dignitary take his oath again or be removed from his post.

Ultra-nationalistic lawyer Bal Krishna Neupane, who has in the past filed writs asking for India to restore Nepal’s conceded territory in the 19th century, Friday moved the apex court against Jha, Nepal’s first President Ram Baran Yadav and caretaker Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala.

About two months ago, a similar controversy was created when Terai party legislators took their oath in the constituent assembly in Hindi.

However, Jha’s swearing-in has triggered a greater furore since the Maoists, who suffered a stinging defeat in the presidential race by refusing to back Jha, have also jumped into the anti-Hindi war.

Minister for Information and Communications and Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara criticised the Hindi oath, saying it was “regrettable” and had tarnished the prestige of the vice-president’s post.

The Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Leninist that has nine legislators in the assembly, issued a press statement, saying the Hindi oath smacked of loyalty to a foreign power.

Madhesis were one of the most neglected communities in Nepal, with near-zero representation in the army, judiciary and bureaucracy due to their Indian origin and adherence to Indian culture.

The successful Maoist revolt against Nepal’s omnipotent monarchy inspired a Madeshi revolt, demanding an autonomous state and representation in all state organs on the basis of population.

The fierce movement in the Terai plains forced the government to amend the constitution and pledge to restructure the country into a federal republic with autonomous states.

However, the Madhesi movement has also polarised Nepal’s plains and hill communities and raised fears of a secessionist war in future.

Many parties, including the Maoists and communists, have been accusing neighbour India of fomenting the Madhes movement to destabilise Nepal and consolidate its grip on the smaller nation.

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