Nepal's three-month-old government was plunged into a constitutional crisis on Sunday with embattled Vice President Paramananda Jha rejecting a double deadline set for him by the government and Supreme Court to take his oath of office again in Nepali.
The post of the republic's first vice-president is now in danger of becoming 'inactive' after midnight and a new legal battle will begin, stoking fresh animosity between the country's elite hill community and the Terai plains in the south.
Jha, who has been in the eye of a storm since last year when he took his oath of office and secrecy in Hindi instead of Nepali, called a press conference in his office on Sunday after the council of ministers asked him to take the oath again in Nepali in a new ceremony at 4 p.m.
"I will consider the issue only after the government passes a constitutional amendment and shows respect for all the languages spoken in Nepal," the 65-year-old said.
"When an oath is taken, language is not the concern but commitment to the welfare of the nation and people. Nationalism is reflected by one's thoughts, not language."
Jha flayed the Supreme Court, which this month had asked him to take the oath in Nepali by Sunday or face dismissal, calling it a blow to democracy as well as the court's own dignity.
"Language, race, religion and culture are deeply sensitive issues," he said. "All languages, religions and races have to be complementary."
Jha indicated he was going on indefinite leave while his team of lawyers would from Tuesday begin battling the Supreme Court decision.
The move leaves the government in a bind with the parties supporting Jha calling a shutdown in the Terai and stepping up protests in the capital.
The option the vice-president has left to the government is to amend the constitution and include a clause that will allow the president and vice-president to take their oath of office in their mother tongues.
The cabinet had decided to add the clause last week after the court scrapped Jha's Hindi oath as unconstitutional. However, it had said Jha should re-take his oath first since the amendment is a lengthy process.
"I took my oath of office 13 months ago in Hindi," Jha told IANS.
"There is no precedent in the world of an official being asked to take the oath again after such a long time. By ordering me to renounce my Hindi oath and take it again in Nepali, the Supreme Court has insulted all ethnic communities whose mother tongue is not Nepali. The verdict is biased and has divided Nepal at a time we should proceed unitedly to draft a new constitution."
Police, meanwhile, tightened security around Jha's house after two failed attempts to bomb it.
One man has been arrested in a massive manhunt launched in the capital and Terai since a bomb exploded Friday near Jha's residence in Kathmandu, injuring a woman.
An armed group involved in extortion, the Kirat Janawadi Workers' Party, had claimed responsibility for the blast.
A central committee member of the outfit, Ajay Rai, has been arrested from Itahari town in Terai's Sunsari district Saturday night, police said.