Prachanda’s worst nightmare comes true (Comment)

May 6th, 2009 - 4:07 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, May 6 (IANS) The very danger that Nepal’s first Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda had feared one year ago has now come true to plague him and his party.

Last July, when a newly-republic Nepal held its first election to choose a president, Prachanda had an easy choice and a difficult one.

The two biggest parties after the Maoists - the Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) - both offered to support him as prime minister if in return he backed their candidates for presidency.

Had Prachanda rooted for NC chief Girija Prasad Koirala, he would have got the support of the party as well as that of India, which backed Koirala. He could have also voted for UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal and roped in the third-largest party as a strong ally.

Instead, Prachanda chose the difficult option: to field his own candidate, septuagenarian Ram Raja Prasad Singh, as he feared the formation of a parallel centre of power if either Koirala or Nepal won. Predictably, Singh lost and with it, Prachanda lost the support of two crucial allies.

To add to his misgivings, the slighted NC got its revenge by fielding a second candidate, Ram Baran Yadav, who won, and awaited the day he could pay Prachanda back.

Why did Prachanda fear a parallel centre of power? As today’s developments indicate, even as early as July, just after winning the election, he and his party men were plotting a complete takeover of Nepal.

The Maoists control the police and Armed Police Force, they undertook a massive revamp of the bureaucracy and they tried to control the media. Only the army and judiciary were left.

With the chief justice, Kedar Prasad Giri, due to retire, the Maoists had planned to appoint the fifth Supreme Court judge in the hierarchy, but were foiled. Then they trained their guns on the army chief, Gen Rookmangud Katawal, a hardliner and a stumbling block to the Maoist attempt to induct all their People’s Liberation Army fighters in the state army.

As early as in July 2008, the Maoists must have schemed the sacking of Katawal. That is why they needed a compliant president and Ram Raja Prasad Singh, whom they brought out of oblivion, fitted the bill perfectly.

However, Prachanda’s worst nightmare came true when Yadav, the cipher president, crossed swords with him and reinstated the sacked army chief this month. The UML, nursing a series of grudges, was also weaned away easily, leading to the fall of the Maoist government.

What will happen next? While the Maoists say they will block parliament and keep up public protests till Yadav and Katawal exit, Prachanda Wednesday assured civil society leaders that he is in parleys with other party leaders to find a way out.

But Prachanda’s credibility has taken a severe toss after the leakage of a video tape Tuesday that showed him boasting about how his party inflated the size of its guerrilla army and how it still plans to buy weapons and stage a counter-attack to capture total power.

The UML has now asked him to make a public clarification about the tape. If he does, Prachanda needs to be careful. Still on the terror list of the US and criticised by the UN as a persistent offender, his party is fast losing its appeal as a people’s party.

With Gyanendra, the king who tried to grab absolute power, gone, the Maoists no longer have a convincing villain to blame the country’s woes on as well as their own shortcomings. This time, it could be they who find themselves in the villain’s place.

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