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What Prachanda as PM means for India

By Tarun Vijay
August 20, 2008 10:18 IST
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After a persistent 12-year long guerilla insurgency that left more than 15,000 Nepalese dead, the leader of the Communist outfit fashioned and named after the Chinese Army as Peoples' Liberation Army, Prachanda or Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been sworn in as prime minister.

There was no other choice. All the major changes Nepal had gone through in the last three years, occurred due to a single factor and that is the Maoist rebellion. Hence, Prachanda was the legitimate leader to lead the new birth of Nepal as the federal democratic republic. Any attempt to thwart it would have ended in more chaos and anarchy.

Madhav Nepal, general secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist, whom I had met in Delhi a couple of days ago while he was flying back home after the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meet in Colombo, said that with Prachanda's Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist being the largest single party and with the mandate clearly favouring them, they won't have any problem electing Prachanda prime minister. But he was sceptical about the Maoists having the defence portfolio, though Prachanda had agreed to give home to Madhav's party.

Finally, Prachanda brushed aside everyone's doubts and pressure and retained the best portfolios with him -- defence, finance and foreign affairs.

Very soon, he will make every other party irrelevant and bereft of any credibility as he has shown during his militant days. Nepal's political parties are on their knees to accept and adjust to the same Maoists whom they had been describing as murderers and terrorists. During the Maoist insurgency, Prachanda and his ilk spewed venom against India and swore to review all treaties with India.

Of late Nepal has seen an unprecedented anti-India atmosphere in the media and political arena and credible sources blame Chinese machinations for successfully sowing disaffection against us. But I must credit Delhi's incompetent leaders and a complete absence of a Nepal policy also for this consequence.

Nepal was plunged into anarchy by indecisive and corrupt politicians who could neither deliver development to the people nor stand up to the shenanigans of King Gyanendra, who had a dubious character and almost no respect worth its name in the eyes of the subjects. The kings hardly had anything to do with the spiritual heights of Hindu dharma and the nation's constitutional status as a Hindu nation was a complete eyewash. The royalty tried to live a totalitarian life taking liberties of the Middle Ages with the masses and almost always opposing or irritating Indian interests, using China and Pakistan as a lever to extract more from New Delhi.

Nepal as a nation was failing itself and it was natural that the accumulated anger of the backward and hardly literate commoners of the distant hill areas erupted in a bloody battle -- revolution for its organisers and terrorism for the rulers. It is futile and naive to say that everything was orchestrated by some foreign powers, China in this case.

Indian Communists and the starry eyed de-Indianised Marxists in Delhi and Bengal became Maoist supporters. Indian leaders, who had a natural share of responsibility to help Nepalese democracy flower and strengthened, as it helped us strategically too, were too engrossed in their vote banks and mutually hateful, revengeful politics to rise to the occasion. Indian intelligence agencies once again proved their bankruptcy quite meticulously.

After King Birendra and his entire family were killed in June 2001, the Maoists gained every day. The country's royalty, a 240-year old institution, was in doldrums and almost gasping for life under a discredited royal family. The cultural and civilisational links with India that had stood the test of all turbulent times were allowed to dilute and evaporate slowly by a secular regime in Delhi. Nothing was done to help stabilise the non-Maoist democratic polity.

The Nepali Congress was stuck with its power hungry old leadership that refused to change or hand over reign to the fresh faces. Failing miserably to control the Maoist terror, they had to yield to them and invite to join their alliance to run state affairs. A Maoist regime became inevitable with all the political parties either acting sheepish before the gun wielding gangs or just keeping their activities confined to the periphery of the capital, Kathmandu.

The Maoists knew it is not easy to confront residents of the Narayan Hitty Palace directly as that would bring them face to face with the army and also world opinion would be against them. Hence, they chose a path of silent intimidation and threats that worked. Elections were held in fear and political parties dared not campaign in large parts of Nepal, giving the Maoists an edge.

Prachanda was confident that he would get a two thirds majority even before the results were announced. He behaved like a political maestro dictating terms. Once he even assured Madhav Nepal of support for his candidature for the presidency, and then changed his mind the next morning.

He hoped to have his man as president and become prime minister himself. That could not happen as the Nepali Congress's Ram Baran Yadav emerged the surprise winner.

Feeling bitter and disillusioned Prachanda again used the old threatening posture and said the Maoists would not join the government. Madhav Nepal and others got a hint that if Prachanda's wishes were not addressed, he would remain outside the government and not allow it to function like he did during the insurgency. It is better to keep the wolf inside the group than to allow him wander in the jungles again -- this 'wisdom' made the CPN-UML and the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum accept Prachanda's tantrums and leadership.

Now the real test begins for Nepal and the Maoists. Prachanda's Young Communist League has to be contained. His guerillas, with many still wielding guns, if inducted into the royal army, as he had been promising will create new problems of assimilation.

It must be noted that the Maoists have not earned political power through democratic activities, but through gun battles and murders. So those who supported them with money and gun powder all these years will demand their pound of flesh.

Power corrupts and luxuries add glamour to it. Already, Prachanda has gained 'fame' as the 'Rolex revolutionary'. He has made a lot of promises to his followers and the general public. He sold dreams of a great revolution that would bring in a proletariat regime benefitting the poor and deprived.

China has begun asserting its influence too rashly and it may make Kathmandu an uneasy platform in US-China rivalry costing Nepal its well-kept sovereignty. A deeply religious and faithful Nepal is being led by a person who has refused to go to the Pashupati Nath temple, as has been customary for every new prime minister in the past. He declared he is an atheist who changed his name so that his religious and Brahmin identity will not be identifiable.

Nepal is fast becoming an NGO country taking enormous amount of dollar grants from Western Christian countries that are openly expanding their proselytising activities in rural areas where the citizens are poor, illiterate and an easy target. It would be interesting to see how Prachanda addresses this issue. He will also have to ensure Pakistani elements are not given any space to operate against India.

If Prachanda is prudent and mature, he won't let relations with India be marred by anti-India posturing. Will he be able to do that? India's long border with Nepal has seen an unusual growth in madarssas and jihadi activities. Will Prachanda's Nepal help handle that? Nepal's new constitution has to be written and this government is formed to complete that task taking everyone into confidence.

But given his nature and characteristics, Prachanda will dictate terms and others will have to say yes, exactly the way then Communist totalitarian leaders showed in their early days of ascendancy to power. One can only hope and pray that these apprehensions are proved wrong and the guerrilla in his new avatar will genuinely turn into democrat and a friendly neighbour.

Otherwise, we would see another centre of pain emerging in our neck.

Tarun Vijay is director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, and a long-time Nepal observer.

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