Ram, considered as an incarnation of Vishnu, one of the three main deities of the Hindus, had been the most admired and revered of all mythical characters among Hindus. Maryada purushottam that exemplifies the highest of moral standards both as a ruler and an individual has been the source of inspiration for idealists of all generations; Mahatma Gandhi’s famous last words, and the spontaneous and immediate reaction to his assassin’s bullet-fire, were none other than ‘Hey Ram!’
The first President of the Republic of Nepal, born in Dhanusha district as the fourth son of to Thani and Ram Rati Yadav on February 4, 1948, should have a family history of devotion toward Ram or else his name would not be Ram Baran Yadav (somebody adopted by Ram). A widower since long, he has distanced himself from moral failings of all kind all along his four decades of public life, included membership of parliament for 17 years, his tenure as minster for health for a total of five years and as General Secretary of Nepali Congress (NC) for two years. His only daughter Anita Yadav accompanies him as ‘first lady’ during his foreign trips. However, thanks to the wishes and guidance of her father, neither she nor her two brothers have ever been marred by controversies such as abuse of their positions, so commonplace among the offspring of Third World leaders, more so in Nepal.
As someone who received his medical education in a good university in Calcutta, Ram Baran could have tried his luck in big cities of Nepal or India, which offered better prospects for a doctor. No, but he chose his hometown Janakpur and the adjoining rural areas, where he served as a physician. Coming from a middle class Madhesi family of Yadavs with patriotic and democratic leanings, he always yearned to do something for his country aside and above his medical profession. His contact with leaders like BP Koirala, Subarna Shumsher and Girija Prasad Koirala, therefore, turned out to be a turning point in his life and career. Under their influence, he became a devout follower of NC, a party that has been at the vanguard of struggle for democracy in this country despite its many shortcomings and historical blunders. He was repeatedly jailed for campaigning for democracy.
However, as President, Dr Yadav has been too careful to be associated, knowingly or unknowingly, with any kind of partisan, ethnic, regional and racial affiliations and interests. Amidst the madness of divisive identity politics that now prevails in this country, especially among certain quarters of Madhesis and Janajatis, he has acted like a guardian, always pitching for a pan-national identity and unity. This has angered the powerful nexus of Maoist-ethno-lingual-regional interest groups. Some campaigners of sub-national identity who want him, an ethnic Madhesi, to be on their side, are the most infuriated of all.
Recently, in an apparently coordinated campaign of character assassination, some authors from his own community and vicinity have been busy filling op-ed pages of dailies with antipathetic pieces as well as concocted reports about him. For instance, in one of the write-ups, one columnist ‘revealed’ that the president repeatedly lobbied with an Indian minister in favor of Ram Chandra Poudel, the NC candidate for premiership during the parliamentary contests that took place over one-and-a-half years ago. Fine. But why then did the writer/reporter, who obviously is not a friend of Ram Baran, never make the news public? How come other prime minister aspirants that included the likes of Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Jhalanath Khanal, had no knowledge of it? (For, if they had, they wouldn’t have spared any opportunity to capitalize on it). How is it that secret communication between President of Nepal and an Indian minister which even Dahal and Jhalanath never knew about is known to an op-ed writer, after nearly two years?
What is the source of the ‘news’? Who was the said Indian minister? Did the reporter try to verify the news with the President or his aides? If so, what is their version or reaction on the story? Is the perfect match between timing of the release of the news and the President’s public cautioning to Madhesi leaders not to pass remarks that might jeopardize national integration and unity a mere coincidence? Is it also coincidence that the news comes at a time when the constitution is in the process of being finalized and strong ethno-regional lobbies including Madhesis are pressing their divisive demands to be enshrined in the constitution? Is the tallying between publication of the piece and the President’s announcement that he will not validate the (forthcoming) constitution if he ‘smells’ that it may result in the country´s disintegration, also accidental? Did the President blame anybody, or for that matter any community, when he said so? Why should anybody assume that the President’s theoretical apprehension is directed toward them?
Just because Dr Yadav is an ethnic Madhesi, their expectations from him may neither be fulfilled nor justified. As President and leader of the whole Nepali people he cannot serve the interests, nor can he share the aspirations, of a particular community or region alone. And, he rightly believes that first he is a Nepali and only thereafter anything and everything else. However, he has always demonstrated that he is proud of his Madhesi identity and heritage as well. During visits to his hometown, he wears the native Madhesi dress and speaks in Maithili--his mother tongue (nevertheless, he doesn’t use Hindi the way many Madhesi leaders do in public).
Ram Baran Yadav greets people not only on Baishakh 1st and Dashain, but also on Lhosar, Maghi, Chhath, Christmas, Id-ul Fittar and Nepal Sambat to demonstrate his love and respect toward people of all ethnicities, cultures, regions, religions and races. He directly communicates with people through his Facebook; and Mt Everest, Pashupatinath, Swyayambhu, Janaki Temple (of Janakpur), Shital Niwas, Patan Durbar Square and bunches of rhododendron appear by turn on his website screen. Both as Head of the State and an individual he has lived by example--one that of unity and/in diversity.
The President has been exemplary in carrying out his responsibilities. But some elements unhappy with his all-embracing politics are trying to vilify him.
Not long ago, in Punjab, the small but agriculturally rich state of northern India, Sikh separatists launched a bloody war of secession as the campaigners of identity politics perceived that they were different from the rest of their compatriots. And, the difference was, according to them, symbols such as beard and turban which the Sikh males grow/use but which Hindu Punjabis do not. Both communities had been living together harmoniously since time immemorial and shared everything from neighborhoods to culture and language, making it impossible to separate the two. Therefore, there was nothing except the beard and the turban, which the misguided perpetrators of identity politics used as basis to identify the ‘enemy’, and to kill them indiscriminately.
Several thousand innocent lives were lost before, eventually, the misplaced war of identity was cooled and crushed. Late Gyani Jail Singh, the then President of India who was himself an orthodox Sikh, could not retire to his native village in Punjab, despite his longing to do so, because of the security threat of the extremists. I don’t know whether Yadav will ever have to meet the same fate but the fanatics who bombarded his ancestral home in Sapahi some years back certainly wanted to stop him from joining his roots. Yadav downplayed the act of sabotage much the same way he has been downplaying the recent attacks in writing. He believes that broader spectrum of Nepali people, rather than a group of ethno-regional activists, and history alone will judge him on merit.