Lawmaker defends Hindi as Nepal language row grows

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : The Hindi row in Nepal continued to mount for the fifth day Sunday with students paralysing the capital’s streets demanding a public apology from newly-elected Indian-origin Vice-President Parmanand Jha on one hand and, on the other, the ethnic party that propelled him to power defending his choice of Hindi while taking the oath of office.

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“Hindi has become essential for Nepal,” said Raj Kishore Yadav, a legislator from 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.

“Our party launched a movement for an autonomous Madhes state (in the Terai plains along the Indo-Nepal border for people of Indian origin). Hindi is going to be the official language of Madhes.

“It will become essential not only for Madhesis (people from the Terai plains) but also for pahadis (people from the hills).”

The embattled vice-president, who Sunday faces a legal tussle in Nepal’s Supreme Court where a lawyer is questioning his oath-taking in Hindi, defended himself from the allegations of being anti-national and an “Indian agent”, saying he was not intimidated by the clamour for his resignation.

“I am not the kind of person who stays at home,” said the former judge, who had been unable to go to his office Friday due to public demonstrations. “I will attend my office Sunday.”

Jha, who defeated three other contestants to win the first vice-presidential election this month, 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, and mother tongues as well as English and Hindi the country’s official languages.”

The public debate over the Hindi oath raged even on Sunday. However, now 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.

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 effigies of the Indian-origin official and blocked main roads in the capital.

In Nawalparasi district, protesters obstructed the highway and said they would keep it up till Jha took his oath again in Nepali.

Protesters also tried to shut down markets in eastern Terai.

Nepal’s Supreme Court will Sunday hear a petition filed by nationalistic lawyer Bal Krishna Neupane, who is arguing that Jha should be barred from office until he took the oath again in Nepali, failing which he should be sacked.

“I will accept whatever verdict the court gives,” Jha said. “I acknowledge it to be the custodian of law and the constitution.”