Don’t misunderstand Naturalized Citizenship that Madhesis demand: Provide them equal rights

  • Advocate Dipendra Jha

Mohi Magne Dhungro Lukaune is an old adage in Nepal, which translates into this:  if you ask for milk, do not hide your container.

Those who say that the demand for equal rights for naturalised citizens, are not their agenda but they continue to argue that the citizenship related  provisions of the Interim Constitution  should be retained in the new constitution are exactly their agenda. The Interim Constitution had not discriminated against any citizen. There was only a bar of 10 years for naturalised citizens (from being able to contest for any constitutional posts) but they had no bar for any constitutional posts as such. We implemented the Interim Constitution for almost 10 years and there was no case of betraying the country but if somebody believes that somebody betrayed the country, then they must be the framers of the Interim Constitution like the top leaders of the seven parties including Girija Prasad Koirala, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Narayan Man Bijukchhe, CP Mainali, who should be punished for betraying the country. Madhesis did not frame the Interim Constitution. Anyway, in Nepal always the citizens by descent have been found betraying the country. Not only that, the framers of the constitution of 1947, 1962 and 1990 should also be treated as traitors because these provisions related to citizenship had also been incorporated in those constitutions.

The framers of the new constitution, in an attempt to become more nationalist than the late King Mahendra, incorporated a provision that bars naturalised citizens from holding (constitutional) posts whose list is long. Not only that, citizens by birth have also been bared from holding those posts. Conferring naturalised citizenship on somebody is a state’s discretion; it is not a matter of somebody’s right.  If the state does not want to issue naturalised citizenship, so be it. If it does not issue naturalised citizenship, it shall not have to worry about the naturalised citizens snatching away others’ rights.

American Supreme Court Justice John Marshal had said that either you do not confer citizenship on people or if you have already conferred end citizenship on people, you should not discriminate between the citizens.  It is learnt that the government has conferred naturalised citizenship to only two persons after 1990. So, what is the reason for hitting the street raising a false issue (that the government is trying to introduce constitution amendment bill proposing to allow naturalised citizens to qualify for top constitutional posts such as the president and the Prime Minster)?

One should not draw parallel between naturalised citizenship and naturalised citizenship acquired on the basis of marital relations. Spouses of Nepali citizens, who have acquired Naturlised citizenship on the basis of their matrimony with Nepali nationals, are just like citizens by descent.  In our traditional society, only the descent of a male member of the family carries the family’s descent. In fact, in our society a female’s surname changes to husband’s surname. My sister’s surname of Jha has now changed to Mishra. In fact, when a woman gets married, her descent changes to her husband’s descent as she gives up the family on her mother’s side and embraces her husband’s descent. Although it is no good, that male’s descent should prevail but the reality is the same.

What kind of provision have we incorporated in Article 289 of our constitution? I have been accepted but my mother who gave birth to me has not been accepted! Father’s sperm is accepted but mother’s ovary is not accepted! Why have we been such much patriarchal? Those who are shouting slogans on the street against the rights of naturalised citizens, must remember that you might have your daughters living in the USA and Europe and if they are married in those parts of the world and if their children want to live with their grand parents in Kathmandu they will also suffer the same fate.

In fact, your grand children will also be treated as second-class citizens. This is not only a Madhesi agenda but also a gender issue. What logic? (Naturalised citizens) can become Home Minister but cannot become Inspector General of Police!  They can become Defense Minister but cannot become Army Chief! They cannot occupy a junior post but they can become the boss of those people who are bound to salute them? Nepali Congress’ Treasurer Sita Devi Yadav, a naturalised citizen can become Minister of Peace and Reconstruction but cannot become Speaker or a Chief Minister of a province? What a ridiculous argument?

Who says that the agenda to ensure the rights of naturalised citizens are not their agenda? This is my agenda, this is an agenda to protect the rights of my mother, who breast-fed me and this is also about protecting the dignity of my mother and ensuring her equal right in the country. I know my mother might never occupy a constitutional post, but I can never accept an attempt to make her a second-class citizen.  Therefore, it is not only my agenda but also the agenda of Parijat, Lain Singh Bangdel, Ambar Gurung, Pashupati Shamsher and my villager  Nangru Tatma who has a marital relation in Haigar, Bihar.

I want to frankly debate that the provisions of the new constitution that discriminates against naturalised citizens are wrong. Our Interim Constitution had contained good provisions about the rights of naturalised citizens. If somebody wants the top constitutional posts like the President and the Prime Minister exclusively reserved for Gurkha leaders with the surname of Bhattarai, Dahal and Nepal, then it is ok to sideline the naturalised citizens. They have enough number of citiznes by descent in their parties; they can choose their candidates from among them and there is no need to make an announcement about it. The Interim Constitution had placed a bar (on Naturalised citizens) for 10 years. Is it  easy  to win the post of President and the Prime Minister?. One cannot win such posts without struggling hard.

Let’s look at the example of the past. Among the 40 past prime ministers, all were from the Khas Arya community. Who prevents you from implementing such an undeclared prohibition? There is no need to have de jure prohibition when de facto prohibition is working. It appears that ego and nostalgia of nationalism are still at play. The agenda of ensuring the rights of naturalised citizenship is every family’s concern in Madhes because it affects the relation of bread and kinship that the peoples of two countries share across the border.

In an interview CPN-Maoist Centre leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha said that India did not allow Sonia Gandhi to become Prime Minister and  why should we allow naturalised citizens to hold such posts but what one needs to understand here is that India’s constitution does not prohibit naturalised citizens like Sonia Gandhi from holding the post of Prime Minister and other such top posts. Sonia Gandhi herself did not want to become the Prime Minister. But we will struggle for people like Sangeeta.

I want to tell Narayan Kaji Shrestha who sees India’s hand in  every demand that Madhesis raise, that we are also free to see China’s hand in everything that you say and do.

This will create a situation where one section will  make such allegations and others will counter them. Can we categorise citizens as first class and second class considering their descent just like peda (a kind of sweet ) sold at Barmajhiya under the brand of Asali peda (pure quality sweet). If somebody is worried about betrayal against the nation, then let’s incorporate a provision in the constitution whereby the citizenship of those betray the nation would be revoked irrespective of the type of citizenship whether a citizen is citizen by descent, by birth or a naturalised citizen. Then, we will see what kind of citizenship holders betrays the nation and what their number is.

Now there are some people who have spread rumour against naturalised citizens. One should not forget that the new constitution has also prohibited citizens by birth from holding top constitutional posts. Nobody has raised this issue. I remember CPN-UML leader Shank Pokharel once saying at a programme one day “Our party’s policy is not to prohibit  the citizens by birth from holding top constitutional posts. I do not know who this provision was incorporated in the constitution.”

Except in Japan, there is no distinction between citizens by birth and by descent in any country around the world. Yes comrade, there are many such things that were incorporated in the constitution about which your party is not aware. Shouldn’t we remove these things now? I do not know who coined the word new citizens but we should remember that there is no such thing as new and old citizens. All citizens are equal. Let’s not create a wall between citizens. Let’s make everybody loyal to the country.

If somebody acquires Nepali citizenship on the basis of fake documents  taking advantage of the open border, then we should think of measures to prevent such phenomena. Nationalist CDOs should be stopped from building houses in Kathmandu by selling citizenship but let’s not blame others for your own mistake.

Now a debate has been ignited that the Prime Minister has sent a letter to the United Democratic Madhesi leaders informing them that he was going to introduce a constitution amendment bill proposing to allow naturalised citizenship to hold the top posts. This is not an issue, the real issue is of argument and debate. If you are not ready to hear this argument raised by Madhes today, then we will have to be ready to hear more aggressive arguments in the future, which will be very difficult for you to handle. Whether or not the constitution is amended today is a different matter. You have required number in the Parliament but you should also take cognizance of the argument and reality.

As far as amendment to the constitution is concerned, you would like to do for your own sake- for the sake of continued consolidation of your power. Amendment is needed more for the continuity of power in Singh Durbar rather than for Madhesis. Fifty people who carried placard at Maitighar, should understand that half a million people took to the street in one day at Birgunj to secure their rights in the constitution.


This article is English translation of the original version in Nepali language published at on November 8, 2016. 

Dipendra Jha

An Advocate practicing at Supreme Court of Nepal.