Kathmandu : Nearly two dozen protesters were arrested Thursday for torching copies of a controversial Supreme Court judgment that has ordered the second-highest official in the state to take his oath of office in Nepali or face removal, escalating Nepal’s ongoing Hindi row.
Members of the Sadbhavana Party (SP), an ethnic party from the Terai plains, took up cudgels on behalf of embattled Vice-President Paramananda Jha, who is embroiled in a bitter battle with Nepal’s chief justice and the Supreme Court and faces dismissal if he refuses to take his oath of office again by Sunday.
The SP, which is a junior member of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s ruling coalition, is urging the government to amend the interim constitution so that the two topmost dignitaries – the president of the nascent republic and the vice-president – are allowed to take the oath of office and secrecy in their mother tongues instead of Nepali, the official language of Nepal.
Jha, a 65-year-old former Supreme Court judge who became Nepal’s first vice-president last year, was taken to court immediately by a lawyer for having taken the oath of office in Hindi. The Terai community’s movement to gain official recognition for Hindi received another blow last month after the Supreme Court declared Jha’s swearing-in unconstitutional and asked him to take his oath in Nepali or face dismissal.
“I have already taken the oath once,” Jha told IANS. “It is meaningless to repeat the act. There is no instance in the world of an official being asked to take his oath of office after such a long period.”
The vice-president, who has the Terai parties supporting him and the rest of the country against him, also said that the movement against him indicated the prevailing discriminatory attitude towards Madhesis – people from the Terai.
“The chief of the army (Gen Rookmangud Katawal) was named in a law suit three years ago,” he said.
The general is accused of falsifying his date of birth and, according to the petitioner, should have been retired much earlier.
“However, even though his term ends next month and he has virtually gone into retirement, the court dared not take up the priority case fearing the political fallout since the army chief has the support of the ruling parties.
“On the other hand, they picked on my case when the focus should be on drafting a new constitution.”
Jha said the court doesn’t have the right to dismiss him. It can only make him `sit in inactivity’.
“As per the constitution, only the constituent assembly can remove me,” he said. “However, the impeachment motion has to be passed by two-third of the (601) members.”
The Terai party that had helped him become vice-president, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, is asking Jha to resign instead of taking the oath again in Hindi.
The Maoists, the biggest party in parliament, are also urging him to quit.
On the other hand, President Ram Baran Yadav, called him twice this week, urging him to end the controversy and be sworn in again, advice that Jha has rejected.
“In politics, there are developments every hour,” Jha said. “I will announce Friday what I intend to do.”