Embattled Nepal vice president defends himself in language war

July 26th, 2008 - 4:09 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 26 (IANS) Unable to attend office for fear of his safety and facing a legal wrangle over taking the oath of office in Hindi, Nepal’s Vice President Parmanand Jha has finally defended himself, saying he was a nationalist and had the nation’s interests at heart. The former Supreme Court judge, who became Nepal’s first vice president last week after a four-corner fight, now finds himself in a corner with protests erupting nationwide over his taking the oath of office and secrecy Wednesday in Hindi, identified in Nepal as the national language of southern neighbour India.

Students affiliated to eight major parties have kept up protests in the capital and outer districts since Wednesday, burning effigies of Jha with placards that said “I am an Indian agent”.

“The issue has been politicised,” Jha told BBC Radio’s Nepali Service late Friday night, when the anti-Hindi demonstrations reached a crescendo.

Jha, who belongs to the Madhesi community - people of Indian origin living in the Terai plains along the India-Nepal border - said 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.”

Jha will face 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.

Neupane is urging the court to make Jha take the oath again in either Nepali or his mother tongue Maithili or be removed from his post.

On Friday, Jha, a member of the powerful Terai party, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, was unable to go to his office here because of lack of security. Students organised demonstrations on the main roads, burning tyres, Jha’s effigy and shouting anti-Hindi slogans.

About two months ago, a controversy was created when Terai party legislators took their oath in the constituent assembly in Hindi. However, Jha’s swearing-in has caused a bigger furore.

The Maoists, who suffered a stinging defeat in the presidential race by refusing to back Jha as vice-president, have also jumped into the anti-Hindi fray.

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

Several Maoist-affiliated organisations have joined the protests, demanding the resignation of Jha.

A communist party with nine legislators in the assembly, the Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Leninist, 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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