Prachanda’s prowessIn one of his parting speeches as prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ said on a celebratory note that he had set an example for others by honouring a gentlemen’s agreement to pass on the reins of power to an awaiting coalition leader.
In one of his parting speeches as prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ said on a celebratory note that he had set an example for others by honouring a gentlemen’s agreement to pass on the reins of power to an awaiting coalition leader. He recalled that at least two of his predecessors had been reluctant to hand over power as agreed when they had been elected to the country’s top executive post.
Prachanda put on a cheerful face while responding fittingly to the opposition leader’s criticisms of his performance during his second term as prime minister. Prachanda has bitter memories of his first prime ministership in 2008, after his party secured an awesome victory over the traditional forces of the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML in the first CA elections. Fresh out of the revolutionary school, Prachanda had a penchant for dismantling the existing order. The electoral victory had given the Maoists such a sense of power that the emerging party wanted its way in all undertakings. Within a short span of time, the Maoists had “used” several powerful leaders, including then-president of the NC, GP Koirala, and UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal. The established forces were sick of the Maoist misadventures, one of which was the failed bid to replace the Army chief, ultimately costing Prachanda his post of prime minister.
Prachanda’s second term has shown him to be a more mature leader with the ability to make calculated moves. He seems to have developed thick skin and not easily swayed by mild winds of trouble.
Of the numerous pledges he made while assuming the seat of power last year, Prachanda has accomplished two things worthy of appreciation. He showed a firm commitment to ending endemic power cuts and held the first round of local level elections in a largely peaceful manner. There is still a long list of things he failed to do: address the demands of the Madhes-based parties for constitutional amendments, bring closure to the thousands of conflict-era cases of death, disappearance, torture and loot, and so on.
This so-so report card seems to have pleased Prachanda, especially because his party is currently in very bad shape. The Maoist party has no organisation, right from the top to the provinces and the local levels. Despite accomplishing a merger between 10 Maoist factions, Prachanda had to deal with the departure of Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Baidya. Of course, Bhattarai and Baidya are also in dire straits themselves. Bhattarai’s standing has been diminished after his gimmicks of cosying up to India and the Madhesi forces, and Baidya is struggling to keep himself visible in the political scene.
But in the long run, the departure of Bhattarai and Baidya has actually turned out to be a blessing for Prachanda. Bhattarai was a permanent opposition to Prachanda with constant complaints that he was not given the space he deserved. His attempt at putting together the Naya Shakti party has exposed the limited organisational capacity of the former Maoist ideologue. Baidya, with his consistent yearning for a “people’s revolution”, was a pain in Prachanda’s neck. These developments have given Prachanda unchallenged status as permanent leader of the CPN (Maoist Centre).
The follies of parliamentary parties and the unaccommodating state policy are all to be blamed for the 10-year-long conflict. However, Prachanda will be held the most responsible for it unless the peace process is completed without further delay. Conflict victims must be given a measure of relief from their trauma and loss. People suspect that perhaps Bhattarai absconded from the Maoist flock because he wanted to wash his blood-stained hands in the fountain of identity politics. But Prachanda cannot do the same. He has yet to put the finishing touches on the Maoist “revolution”, engage disillusioned leaders and cadres in lucrative offices by siding with former foes and establish his son or daughter in politics. By remaining in power, Prachanda was able to stem further defections.
But the fruits that the Maoist movement bore in its struggle against the royal rule, and which later ripened into republicanism and federalism, belong almost wholly to the former rebels.
It is an uncontested assertion that Prachanda is the most charismatic of the older politicians in the political circle. In the last couple of years, he has consistently punched above his weight. In the first round of local polls, his party did not fare as badly as expected. To prepare for the second-phase vote, he has rightly rid himself of the shackles of a public post.
In his last address to Parliament as prime minister, Prachanda demonstrated that he still has ample ammunition in his arsenal to consolidate his leadership position. And communist parties are better led by dictators.
Guragain is a desk editor at The Kathmandu Post