Nepal’s Hindi battle escalates
Nepal’s Hindi battle escalates
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 29 (IANS) The battle over the use of Hindi for official work, that has pitted southern Nepal against the rest of the country, escalated Wednesday with embattled Vice President Parmananda Jha appealing to the nation to put fraternity and harmony above emotion.
The 65-year-old former Supreme Court judge, who became republican Nepal’s first vice president last year, made the appeal after rumours began circulating that he would be resigning to protest a court ruling that ordered him to take his oath of office and secrecy again, this time in Nepali.
The language furore started last year after Jha took his oath of office in Hindi.
It was not an isolated incident. Before him, newly elected members of parliament from the Terai plains had also taken their oaths in the same language.
With Nepal being declared a federal republic, MPs from other indigenous communities also took their oaths in their mother tongues.
However, an ultra-nationalistic lawyer, Balkrishna Neupane, filed a writ in court, saying since the vice president was a non-political figure, Jha should represent the entire country and not one community.
The lawyer urged Nepal’s Supreme Court to declare the Hindi oath unconstitutional and order Jha to take oath in Nepali.
Last week, in a stunningly quick decision, the two judges hearing the case, including Nepal’s Chief Justice Man Bahadur Rayamajhi, ruled that the Hindi oath was unconstitutional and invalid.
The apex court also ordered the vice president to be sworn in again in Nepali.
Jha Wednesday called the verdict biased and vengeful.
What adds credence to his reaction is that though the verdict was announced Friday, the court conveyed it to his office only Tuesday.
And even before the vice president had the time to go through the ruling, two persons slapped a fresh writ against him in court, saying he had shown contempt of court by neither taking the oath again nor resigning.
Interestingly, several other cases of graver national interest have been lying in the apex court without any resolution in sight.
One of them is the critical case of Nepal Army chief Gen Rookmangood Katawal. Katawal’s tenure ends next month.
However, a petitioner moved court more than a year ago, saying the army chief had lied about his age and should have retired earlier.
The case is of paramount interest because Nepal’s first Maoist government fell this year over Katawal.
The Maoists tried to sack him but failed after President Ram Baran Yadav reinstated the general.
If it is proved that Katawal should have retired earlier, it would strengthen the Maoist cause.
However, even with the army chief due to retire, Supreme Court is yet to resolve it.
Jha said he would take the oath again in Nepali if the people wanted him to. However, he would not endure being coerced into swearing in Nepali by the court.
Nepal’s Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has started consulting legal experts to find an acceptable solution.
The regional parties that supported Jha become vice president have been slow to speak up on his behalf since they are now in disarray themselves.
The biggest Terai party, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, has split with the dissident faction seeking to register a new party with the Election Commission.
Jha also created a stir while taking the oath because instead of the tight trousers and long shirt that is the national dress of Nepal, he wore the dhoti and kurta favoured by the Terai people in India and Nepal.
The dhoti and the Hindi language are regarded with disdain by Nepal’s elite hill community, who regard them as the trade marks of neighbour India.
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