Sunday, January 18, 2009

Nepal minister is actually Indian, Maoist leader tells Supreme Court

By Sudeshna Sarkar

Kathmandu, Jan 18 After controversial Assam MP Mani Kumar Subba and golden-voiced Bollywood singer Udit Narayan Jha, it is now the turn of a communist minister from Nepal to become embroiled in a dispute about his nationality.

Ram Chandra Jha, the local development minister in the Maoist-led government of Nepal and a member of the decision-making central committee of his party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), has been dragged to court amidst growing allegations by the ruling Maoist party that he is actually an Indian citizen who falsified documents to sport a Nepali identity.

On Friday, lawyer Santosh Basnet filed a writ in Nepal’s Supreme Court, urging action against the minister. The petition was filed on behalf of Dev Chandra Yadav, the Maoist leader in charge of the electoral area in Dhanusha district in southern Nepal from where Jha won during the April election.

The petitioner alleges that Jha still retains his Indian citizenship. By keeping him in the cabinet the government is imperilling Nepal’s sovereignty, the writ says.

On Saturday, the Maoists called a press conference where Yadav claimed that he had documents to prove that the minister was Indian.

According to the Maoist leader, Jha’s name is in the voters’ list in Madhubani district that lies across the border in India’s neighbouring Bihar state. Jha’s wife Sushma Devi also figures on the voters’ list there while Jha’s brother Madan Chandra Jha won a local election from Madhubani, the Maoist leader told the media.

According to the allegations, the minister sold off his land in Madhubani and acquired papers projecting him as a Nepali.

The controversy was raised last year by senior Maoist leader and Forests Minister Matrika Prasad Yadav, who is also from Dhanusha. Yadav has since then resigned from the cabinet.

The UML, that is the second-largest party in the alliance government after the Maoists and now increasingly at loggerheads with its ally, rejected the allegations as baseless.

“The claims are absolutely false,” UML spokesperson and former minister Yubaraj Gyawali told IANS. “Anyone can make any allegations and file any writ making any claim. When Jha won the election last year, the Election Commission went through his documents and found them to be in order.”

“The minister is 100 percent Nepali.”

Gyawali said the allegations were politically motivated. “They are a bid to assassinate Jha’s character,” the UML leader said. “We will follow the writ in court.”

With the dispute Ram Chandra Jha becomes the third person to feature in debates over whether a public figure is Indian or Nepali.

Lottery baron and Congress MP from Tezpur, Assam, Mani Kumar Subba has been facing allegations from time to time that he is actually a Nepali who faced a murder charge in eastern Nepal’s Ilam district.

Subba has rebutted the allegations, saying they are a case of mistaken identity and that he is an Indian whose forefathers hailed from Sikkim.

Now with the Indian government mulling conferring the prestigious Padmashri award on renowned Bollywood singer Udit Narayan Jha, there are claims that Jha is a Nepali citizen from Saptari district in southern Nepal.

But the singer has reportedly said he is an Indian citizen, having been born in Supaul village in Bihar.

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