Prachanda takes charge in people’s name (Lead)

August 18th, 2008 - 6:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 18 (IANS) Nepal’s Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” began a new chapter in the federal democratic republic’s history Monday by assuming oath of office and secrecy as prime minister in the name of the people and not God.The communist revolutionary, who fought a 10-year “People’s War” to overthrow Nepal’s dynasty of god-kings and transform the Hindu kingdom into a secular republic, laid aside the camouflage battle fatigues he had donned as the supreme commander of the guerrilla People’s Liberation Army to become the republic’s first prime minister.

The 54-year-old, who waged a war on feudal traditions to create a new progressive Nepal rejected the daura suruwal, the traditional attire of Nepali men, to become the first minister who was sworn in wearing a light brown suit and dark tie.

A traditional black cap, however, proclaimed him as the son of the soil.

The farmer’s son who lived 25 years underground hunted by security forces and carrying a bounty on his head began his tenure striking a different note while taking the very oath of office.

In a solemn ceremony held under tight security and attended by over 1,000 guests, Prachanda modified the oath administered by the president, Dr Ram Baran Yadav, that said “I swear in the name of God”. Instead, he amended it to “I swear in the name of the people.”

The huge crowd included his overjoyed father Muktiram Dahal, who said while he had hoped his son would progress in life, he had never dreamt of the boy reaching such heights.

It also included the envoys from the countries that had been the sternest critics of the Maoists, including the US that has still kept the former insurgents on its list of organisations banned as terrorists.

The man who had learnt to fire guns and make bombs Monday relinquished both his post as chief of the PLA as well as the defence ministry, which had traditionally been held by Nepal’s prime ministers.

Though Prachanda’s appointment marks an end to the political vacuum paralysing the country since the April election, he still has grave challenges before him.

The Maoists failed to swear in the cabinet they had hoped to along with the premier as they could not reach a power-sharing agreement with the two major parties which last week helped Prachanda sweep the prime ministerial election.

The Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) and Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) remained deadlocked on key ministries. The dispute also prevented the three parties from making public their common minimum programme Monday ahead of the swearing-in.

The Maoist central committee held a quick meeting on the situation in the afternoon and agreed, for now, to nominate two lawmakers to the new cabinet.

Prachanda’s aide Dr Baburam Bhattarai, an economics scholar, will head the finance ministry while Russia-educated Ram Bahadur Thapa Magar will be the new defence minister.

“We hope to finalise the rest of the cabinet soon,” UML chief Jhalanath Khanal promised.

While congratulations began to pour in, political leaders, however, warned the new prime minister of the stiff challenges that lay ahead.

“The new government faces the challenge of providing security,” said MJF chief Upendra Yadav, whose stronghold, the Terai plains in south Nepal, have been the worst victims of lawlessness since the fall of King Gyanendra’s government two years ago.

“It has to restore rule of law, restructure the state and draft a new constitution,” Yadav said.

“The way ahead is full of challenges.”

However, before he begins grappling with the awaiting crises, Prachanda will fly to Beijing Saturday to attend the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games on Aug 24.

That too will be a departure from tradition with the earlier PMs having made southern neighbour India their first port of call abroad.

“Comrade Chairman will go to Bejing Saturday if nothing untoward happens,” Maoist lawmaker Dev Gurung said. “It was felt that he should attend it.”

Prachanda had recently expressed his desire to visit the birthplace of Mao Zedong, the Chinese revolutionary whose philosophy inspired the Maoist insurgency.

There was no immediate reaction from deposed king Gyanendra, who owes his fall from power to Prachanda. The former king had welcomed the results of the April election that abolished his crown.

Media reports said the last monarch of Nepal was busy writing an autobiography and keenly watching television.

The Maoists have said that when they come to power, they would order a new probe into the massacre in the royal palace seven years ago in which 10 members of the royal family, including the then king Birendra, were slain.

Prachanda has also said that once he came to power, Gyanendra, permitted by the previous government to move into a summer lodge from the prestigious royal palace, would have to look for a new roof over his head.

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