Now that Maoist leader Prachanda is heading the government, will this be the dawn of a new era for Nepal?
Until June 16, 2006, no one really knew what he looked like. All people had seen was a file photo: a man with a thick black beard, looking left. But that day at then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s official residence, he broke his 25 yea rs of underground life and held a press conference to reveal himself. He did not have that beard but a moustache and looked quite different from the man in the file photo. Two years later, he now lives in the same place where he held his first press-meet, this time as the first elected Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. He is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as Prachanda.
Defeating former Prime Minister and senior Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba in the election, Prachanda has not just become the second Communist Prime Minister of Nepal but has also set a world record by being the first Maoist leader to be elected PM. For this, however, he had to lead a 10-year bloody insurgency in the country, which took lives of nearly 14,000 people. The beginning
It all began in 1996 when the Maoists presented a 40-point demand list to the Nepali-Congress Government, headed by then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Among others, the major demand was to abolish monarchy. At a time when King Birendra Shah had restored democracy, no one really thought it was possible to remove the institution that had ruled Nepal for two and a half centuries. Even Deuba did not think so. That’s why, ignoring their threat of an armed struggle, he went to India on official visit.
When the Maoists’ 15-day ultimatum expired, they took up arms. They started attacking security forces across the country, the first one being at a police post in Rukum district. Slowly, their attacks spread across, and with the looted weapons, they started training Maoist militias in various jungles.
In the course of their 10-year insurgency, they were termed ‘terrorists’ by the government; even the international communities accepted that tag. The battle between the Nepal Police and the Maoist rebels became a routine and killed thousands of innocent civilians. In 2001, the Nepal Army had completely taken control of the Maoist militia in Holeri of Rukum district. Girija Prasad Koirala, then Prime Minister, asked King Gyanendra Shah to give orders to finish the Maoists. It’s said that Shah did not support the idea and said he did not want a set of Nepalis to be killed by another set of Nepalis. After the incident, Girija Prasad Koirala resigned, and the Maoists never gave the government another chance.
Neglected rural Nepal and centralised development in Kathmandu were the main factors that helped Maoists win over the people. Corruption and politicisation of almost all institutions had vexed people, even after the restoration of democracy. Parties had failed to live up to people’s expectations. With the royal massacre of 2001 that wiped out the entire family of King Birendra Shah, even those who had earlier faith in monarchy had second thoughts. The same year, the government thrice held talks with the rebels, but when negotiations broke down and the Maoists ended their ceasefire, a state of Emergency was declared and the army was deployed.
When King Gyanendra Shah dissolved the House in 2002, his downfall started. The royal coup in 2005 gave the Maoists a chance to work with the Seven-Party Alliance against his direct rule. They jointly signed a 12-point agreement in New Delhi. Then started the People’s Movement, or the Second Jana Andolan.
Eventually, on April 24, 2006, the king was forced to relinquish power and reinstate the House of Representatives. The same year, the Maoists formally ended their decade-long war by signing a Comprehensive Peace Accord, signed by two historic figures — Prachanda and Girija Prasad Koirala. Just two years later, they emerged the largest party in the Constituent Assembly elections, and now head a coalition government, with their Supreme Commander, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) as the Prime Minister.What needs to be done
The major challenge for the Maoist-led government would be to reinstate hundreds of families displaced by their war. Of the estimated 2100 displaced families, only 700 have got their homes back. The Maoists also have to return the public and private land and properties seized during their war. On the day of Prime Ministerial election, senior leader Baburam Bhattarai reiterated the party’s commitment to return those. Among others, former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, Nepali Congress leader K.B. Gurung, and UML leader Amrit Kumar Bohara are yet to get their confiscated land and properties.
Army integration is another issue that needs to be dealt with. Already, the decision to deploy the People’s Liberation Army for the Prime Minister’s security has irked CPN (UML), MJF and Nepali Congress. Arjun Narsingh KC, spokesperson of the main opposition party Nepali Congress, says if the integration did not meet international standards, it could demoralise the army. Also, he added, “How can they (the Maoists) control both state and non-state armies?” This was the dispute that led to the Congress’ rigid claim for the Defence Ministry. When the Maoists didn’t agree, they chose to sit in the opposition.
Though the war claimed the lives of 14,000 people, the Maoists were the ones who stood against feudalism and brought the concept of inclusiveness. The Constituent Assembly has 601 members, out of which 34 per cent comprise people from Madhes and 33 per cent are women. Likewise indigenous and other backward classes are also significantly represented. Never have these groups been represented this way in the legislature.
The Maoists have been saying that what they want to do in the next 10 years is to have an economic revolution. If they are indeed able to stabilise the economy of a war-ridden country, utilising all the natural resources (water resources chiefly); if they are able to ensure lasting peace in the country and draft the best constitution in two years; and restructure the country so that all the marginalised regions are taken into consideration, then that day, the souls of 14,000 sacrificed lives will rest in peace. Challenges Ahead
To end growing anarchism
Return of seized land and properties
Rehabilitate the displaced
Control violence in Terai
Ensure smooth supply of petroleum products
Strengthen the new Maoist-UML-MJF alliance
Write a timely constitution
Dissolve the ’semi-military structure’ of their Young Communist LeagueWho is Prachanda?
Born to a farmer’s family in 1954, his childhood name was Chhabilal Dahal. He prefers Prachanda to Pushpa Kamal because “it does not reflect his caste or religion”.
A Brahmin born to a lower-middle class family, Prachanda’s ancestors had been exploited by feudal landlords. His father says, even as a child, Prachanda could not stand any kind of discrimination and would speak for his rights.
In 1971, he joined Patan Multiple Campus for his Intermediate in Science (ISc). Influenced by Communist ideologies, he established a Marxism-learning group.
After graduating in agriculture from the Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science, Chitwan, he also worked as a school teacher.
One paper quoted his students remembering him as a talented teacher, very concerned about them. Sometimes, he would even drop by in the evenings to see if anyone was having problems.
Though involved in Nepal’s Communist Revolution since 1971, he became Chairman only in 2000.
When he assumed the Prime Minister’s office on August 18, he was not able to describe his happiness. "All this has been too historical; from ten-year insurgency to this day, I simply cannot put my emotions in words."
6 months ago