By Krandan Chapagain in Kathmandu
British Gurkhas, or Nepalis that serve in the British Army, have refused the offer of ‘special citizenship’ in the new constitution of Nepal and have claimed that they are not just any other non-resident Nepalis (NRNs) because of the historical background under which they emigrated.
They are demanding ‘dual citizenship’ with full political rights.
On 27 September last year, the Constitutional Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee (CPDCC), a multiparty entity under Nepal’s Constituent Assembly, had decided to grant ‘special citizenship’ to NRNs including the British Gurkhas living in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. Under the arrangement, NRNs would be granted ‘special citizenship’ that would carry all rights of ordinary Nepali citizens except the right to vote and stand as election candidates.
Speaking to southasia.com.au, CPDCC member Laxman Lal Karna (Nepal Sadbhawana Party) said that the political parties have held internal talks about the matter following the refusal of British-Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen’s Organisation (BGAESO) to accept the earlier decision. He lamented that the fresh demand of BGAESO comes as a setback because the draft for a new law as per an earlier decision had already been prepared.
Gopal Siwakoti, legal consultant to BGAESO, argues that British Gurkhas left their homeland in accordance with the 1947 tripartite agreement between Nepal, India and the British and therefore, they must be allowed to keep their citizenship intact. Whereas other NRNs left their country with families at their own will, British Gurkhas did not have the choice to bring their families along, he said. Siwakoti opines that they continued to remit money back to Nepal all the while too.
There are approximately 40,000 British Gurkha families that according to Siwakoti should be allowed to retain their full Nepali citizenship.
When asked if there were such instances elsewhere, Siwakoti said, “There is no need to look for examples in other countries. It’s enough if the citizenship of the British Gurkhas is allowed to remain as it was before, there is no need to issue new citizenship. There is also no need for Nepal to poke its nose into whether or not they are going to retain their political rights there in Great Britain.”
In a country where problems and issues take new forms and shapes at each passing hour, this latest contention may well be another stumbling block in the promulgation of a new constitution.
According to the September 27 consensus, NRNs will have economic, social, cultural and religious rights, but not political. NRN as an organisation is understood to have accepted this provision however the British Gurkhas don’t.
Last year, CPDCC Chairman Baburam Bhattarai had said that dual citizenship as demanded by British Gurkhas living in Britain and Hong Kong was not possible as it would invite far-reaching complications.
There is some way to go before NRNs can flock their embassies to obtain ‘special citizenship’ certificates. The decision taken by the CPDCC will have to be endorsed by a majority of the Constituent Assembly before it can be included in the draft constitution. And then the draft constitution must be endorsed by two-thirds of the CA for promulgation.
(Krandan Chapagain is News Chief at Nepal1 Television)