Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Citizenship Bill fracas


Among several sensitive issues in Nepal, citizenship bill definitely comes at the top of the list. The Supreme Court of Nepal has issued an interlocutory interim order against the President’s authentication of the Citizenship Bill and it could, possibly, trigger a constitutional crisis in Nepal.

With the soaring summer heat outside, political heat too is in a state of boiling inside the parliament. The opposition parties have stalled the proceedings of the legislature on the ground that the President has authenticated the bill unconstitutionally. (Refer to the box for time line). With the stay order, the Office of the President, the Executive and the Judiciary are now in direct confrontation with one another.

How the issue will be resolved will determine the possible political courses, including the unity of Nepali people. The issue will probably overshadow all other contentious issues like fake Bhutanese refugee scam, Nepal-India relations related to border encroachment, EPG Report, Hydro-power collaborations, trade and transit rights etc.

There is no dearth of conspiracy theories – this could even be a ploy to distract public attention from other burning issues. With the case pending at the court, now, the opposition parties will have difficult time protesting against the issue in the parliament.

It is a sheer irony for a country whose economy depends on remittance money sent by tens of thousands of its citizens working abroad; where majority of the youths aspire to travel abroad either for study, tour, business or employment opportunities; probably, a large swath of Nepali origin people residing outside than inside Nepal; and the country that can easily accommodate tens of thousands of Tibetan refugees and hundred thousand Bhutanese refugees, when it comes to issuing citizenship to its own people, the issue becomes a political hotcake. Effectively, the country has denied citizenship to its own people invoking a specter of foreigners dominating the local populace.

The recent revelation of fake refugee scandal, involving a high profile politically exposed people, tells us that an average Nepali is ready to be duped millions of rupees and even to masquerade as a refugee, just to secure foreign travel.

Extreme nationalists, using social media have fed the average minds of Nepali people with the specters of Fijikaran, Sikkimikaran and Bhutanikaran. Sounds like we are more concerned about Sikkim than a Sikkimise, Bhutan than a Bhutanese and Fiji than a Fijian. The real issue is Indianization, that is, the fear of indigenous population being swamped by the foreigners, ultimately decimating the very existence of the country.

Again, the crux of the matter rests with giving citizenship certificates to brides from India. However, the perception of the people living in the Southern plains is totally different. Recently, a friend residing in Southern border town, Birgunj, remarked: “Only a stupid will be interested becoming a citizen of this (poor) country. There is a dearth of brides from India. Indianization of Nepal is a pure political hogwash.” With the steady economic growth in adjoining states of India, there are few Indian families interested in tying conjugal knots with the Nepalese. Yet we run the specter of Indianization.

The opposition parties have taken an opportune moment to politicize the issue because: (a) authentication of bill coincided with PM visit to India, (b) the PM boasting about concessions from India is at the cost of citizenship bill (and release of Resham Chaudhary), and (c) the new president’s authentication of the bill is a revenge on his predecessor who had kept the bill on hold even after being passed twice by the parliament.

Anybody reading between the lines of the opposition parties’ call will soon realize that they are not so much against the contents of the bill as much against the manner and process related to its authentication. The lawyers who brought the case to the court has even charged the President of forgery.   


The Citizenship Bill: Time Line

  • July 8, 2022, withdrawal of the Bill tabled in the year 2018
  • July 8, Tabling of the New Bill
  • July 22, Lower House passing the Bill
  • July 28, Upper House passing the Bill
  • August 1, The Bill sent for the President’s authentication
  • August 14, The Bill returned with suggestions from the President
  • August 18, Lower House second time passing the Bill
  • September 2, Upper House second time passing the Bill
  • September 5, the Bill sent for second time authentication by the President, as per the constitution, the Bill has to be authenticated by the President within 15 days.
  • May 26, 2023, the Cabinet requests the President for the authentication of the pending Bill
  • May 31, the President authenticates the Bill
  • June 2, Senior Advocates Mr Bal Krishna Neupane and Dr Surendra Bhandari file writ petition against the authentication of the Bill by the President in the Supreme Court.
  • June 4, the Court issues interlocutory interim order and invited the concerned parties for a hearing on 9 June.


The order has come at a time when the government has already directed its district offices to issue citizenship certificates as per new law. Nobody knows what happens to those who have secured citizenship certificates on Sunday. There are queues of people waiting outside CDOs in Sunsari, Morang, Bara and Parsa districts. This could ignite a fire in Terai plains, drawing deep cleavages between pahad vs. madhes, bahun-chhetri vs. janajatis, rajabadis vs. republicans, and overseas Nepalese vs. Nepalese living inside.

There are also positive perspectives to the case. As I mentioned above, the opposition parties are now being cornered inside the parliament. The court will also deal on the constitutionality of the actions of the outgoing president Mrs. Bidya Devi Bhandari. I suppose the crux of the matter rests with the argument: Who is culpable here? One who shits the ground or the one who cleans that shit?

Published on 6 June 2023