Raging row over Hindi now reaches Nepal parliament (Lead)

July 27th, 2008 - 6:56 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 27 (IANS) The row over a lawmaker taking his oath of office in Hindi, which has rocked Nepal since Wednesday, reached the new republic’s caretaker parliament Sunday with the Maoists and Madhesi lawmakers of Indian origin entering the fray. As demonstrations against Indian-origin Vice-President Parmanand Jha for taking his oath of office in Hindi continued in the capital and the outer districts for the fifth consecutive day, Maoist deputy chief Baburam Bhattarai raised the issue at the meeting of Nepal’s caretaker parliament, the constituent assembly, saying Jha had insulted his position by taking the oath in Hindi.

However, the Maoist allegation was rejected by the powerful Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) that has emerged as the fourth largest party and new kingmaker in Nepal’s politics after the April election and had backed Jha in the four-cornered deputy presidential poll.

MJF president and lawmaker Upendra Yadav said Hindi was the language of the Madhesis in Nepal. The Himalayan republic, he told the house, was home to people speaking various languages and to try impose one language and one attire in the name of nationalism amounted to dictatorship.

“Nationalism does not lie in one’s language and clothes,” Yadav said, referring to objections to Jha at his swearing-in donning dhoti-kurta which Indians along the border wear, instead of the traditional Nepali formal daura-suruwar.

For the fifth day Sunday, students affiliated to the major parties kept up demonstrations in the capital and outer districts, asking Jha to either resign or apologise.

They burnt his effigies and blocked main roads in the capital.

In Nawalparasi district, protesters obstructed a section of the east-west highway connecting Nepal with India and said they would keep up blockade till Jha resigned.

Protesters also shut down markets in some districts in eastern Terai. In Sarlahi district in the Terai, the police had to resort to firing in the air to disperse the mobs.

As the controversy raged, Nepal’s Supreme Court began hearing a writ filed by a nationalist lawyer, questioning the validity of Jha’s oath and asking the apex court to bar him from office till he was sworn in again in Nepali.

Judge Damodar Prasad Sharma began hearing the petition by Bal Krishna Neupane on an issue that has polarised Nepal again and widened the rift between its Terai residents and hill community.

The embattled vice-president Sunday stayed away from his first official programme at the new Rastrapati Bhavan where President Ram Baran Yadav administered the oath of office and secrecy to the new chairman of the constituent assembly, former law minister Subhash Nembang.

However, he spoke to a private television channel, defending himself from the allegations of being anti-national and an “Indian agent”.

Jha said he had not done anything wrong in taking the oath of office and secrecy in Hindi.

“I followed the principles of the party that brought me to power,” he said. “The MJF is rooting to make Nepali, mother tongues as well as English and Hindi the official languages.”

The former judge said he would accept whatever verdict the court gives since he acknowledged it to be the custodian of law and the constitution.

As the public debate over the Hindi oath raged on, support also started pouring in for the beleaguered Jha with people pointing out other precedents where Hindi was used without any uproar.

“When Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala signed a pact with the Madhesi parties before the April election, he gave a public speech in Hindi,” wrote Shankar Yadav, a resident of Terai district Mahottari, in Nepal’s leading Kantipur daily.

“At that time, Koirala was also the head of state. Yet, no one protested.”

Yadav also said that whenever the premier and other leaders of the top parties visited border towns like Janakpur and Jaleshwar, they always gave public speeches in Hindi.

“Why is the anti-Hindi uproar over Jha’s act alone?” Yadav asked.

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