Kathmandu : The flaming row over the use of the Hindi language for official work in Nepal, which split the republic afresh last year, is now headed for a climax with the apex court ordering the man in the eye of the storm, Vice President Paramananda Jha, to take his oath of office in Nepali within a week or face dismissal.
Jha, a 65-year-old former Supreme Court judge who entered the pages of history last year by becoming the nascent republic’s first vice president, could also become the first vice president to be sacked unceremoniously if he clings to his refusal to take the oath in Nepali “under duress”, as he calls it.
A special bench of five Supreme Court judges Sunday ordered the embattled official to take the oath of office and secrecy in Nepali within a week or be removed from his post. The order also directed the coalition government of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to make arrangements for the fresh swearing-in.
With the order, time has begun to run out for Jha, who has to toe the line by Sunday or face dismissal.
The furore started in July 2008 when Jha, who comes from the Terai plains in southern Nepal, took the oath in Hindi. He also wore the clothes worn by the Terai people — the dhoti and kurta — that are derided by Nepal’s hill community who favour the national dress, the daura suruwal, consisting of tight trousers and a long shirt.
The very next day, a lawyer challenged the oath-taking, calling it unconstitutional and last month, the court gave its verdict in his favour, ordering Jha to be sworn in again.
The humiliated vice president rejected the court decision, calling it biased, and said he would not be forced to take the oath again in Nepali.
However, the parties from the Terai, who had been supporting Jha, abandoned him and stood behind a cabinet decision this month to ask Jha to honour the Supreme Court directive.
Though the parties tried to soften the blow by agreeing to amend the interim constitution so that in future the president and the vice president can be sworn-in in the language of their choice, it is still a smarting verdict for Jha who will now have to eat humble pie or be removed.
The Jha incident emphasises the Nepali desire to be seen as an entity utterly different and distinct from its southern neighbour India.
Though Hindi films and songs do roaring business in Nepal and the language is spoken by many Nepalis, yet barring the Terai community, the republic is opposed to the use of Hindi for official work, regarding it as the official language of India.