Uproar as new Nepal vice president takes oath in Hindi

July 24th, 2008 - 3:26 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 24 (IANS) Within 24 hours of being sworn in as republic of Nepal’s first vice president, former judge Parmanand Jha found himself at the centre of a controversy when he took the oath of office in Hindi, triggering widespread protests. Protests erupted in Nawalparasi, Chitwan and Sarlahi districts and in parts of Kathmandu valley after Jha took his oath of office and secrecy in a grand ceremony Wednesday.

While Nepal’s first president Ram Baran Yadav administered the oath in Nepali, Jha, a member of Nepal’s Madhesi community who are people of Indian origin, repeated it in Hindi.

Protesters said Jha ignored Nepal’s culture and national interests by not taking the oath in his mother tongue Maithili, which is spoken by the maximum number of people in the Terai plains.

Eight student unions affiliated to the ruling parties began demonstrations in front of Kathmandu’s college campuses. Waving black flags and blocking roads by burning tyres, they said Jha insulted the dignity of his post by taking his oath in a non-Nepali language imported from India.

In the Balaju industrial area of the capital, there was tension as protesters blocked the main road, shouting anti-Hindi slogans.

In Chitwan district, students blocked the highway leading to India and shut down the main Narayangarh market.

In Sarlahi district, the Chure Bhabar Ekta Samaj, a fringe party that has a legislator in Nepal’s new constituent assembly, blocked the East-West Highway connecting Nepal with India, for an hour Thursday morning to express its anger.

The party has been a fierce opponent of the Madhesi parties’ call for an autonomous Madhes state in the Terai plains, saying such a state would marginalise the other indigenous communities in the plains who are not of Indian origin.

The Maoists, who this week deepened the political crisis by refusing to form the next government, flayed Jha’s choice of language.

“Is Vice-President Jha Nepali or Hindustani?” asked Maoist daily Janadisha in a front-page report Thursday.

“By taking his oath of office and secrecy in Hindi, the national language of India, Jha insulted Nepal’s national language Nepali as well as his own mother tongue Maithili,” the daily said.

“…Now how can he be considered the vice-president of all Nepalis?”

There was a similar uproar after the lawmakers from the Terai parties took their oath of office two months ago in Hindi in the constituent assembly.

Jha’s decision not to wear the traditional Nepali cap was also remarked upon by Nepal’s media Thursday.

The first vice president had worn the dhoti, kurta and waistcoat worn by Indians along the Indo-Nepal border and looked down upon in Nepal, where “dhoti” is a term of insult.

Though President Yadav himself is also from the Madhesi community, he avoided any controversy, taking the oath in Nepali and appearing in the traditional Nepali attire, including a black cap.

Unlike Yadav, who is regarded as a level-headed politician who put his party and national interests first, Jha carries a controversial past.

A Supreme Court judge, he created controversy when he gave a sentence in favour of a drug smuggler and was transferred to a lower court after the decision was opposed by Nepal’s bar association.

Madhesis, however, feel that Jha was victimised since he was a Madhesi, who have near zero-representation in the judiciary or other state organs.

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