Prachanda: Nepal's firebrand Maoist turned Prime Minister

Out of a total 573 votes cast, Prachanda received 363 votes in favour with 210 voting against him, Gharti Magar.

Published: 03rd August 2016 04:03 PM  |   Last Updated: 03rd August 2016 05:54 PM   |  A+A-


KATHMANDU: Nepal's new Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal spent years hiding out in the jungle directing a guerrilla war against the state, before transforming his Maoist revolutionary movement into a political party.

prachanda-L.jpgThe charismatic 61-year-old -- better known by his nom-de-guerre Prachanda ("the fierce one") -- recruited thousands into his Maoist army with a rousing call to end centuries of feudal inequality and overthrow a 240-year-old monarchy.

The ten-year insurgency he led brought the Nepali state to its knees as the Maoists won control of large swathes of countryside.

After a 2006 peace agreement the father-of-four made a triumphant entry into politics, becoming prime minister for the first time after his party won elections in 2008.

But the gloss quickly wore off and he resigned just nine months later after the president blocked his efforts to sack the army chief in a row over the integration of former Maoist fighters.

Prachanda was born a Brahmin -- the highest Hindu caste -- but his family was poor and he spent his childhood herding goats and buffalo.

The extreme poverty he witnessed first hand in rural Nepal spurred an interest in far-left ideology and he joined a communist party in 1980 at the age of 25.

He worked as a teacher, but gradually became convinced that an armed insurgency was the only way to bring radical change to one of the world's poorest countries.

Inspired by China's Cultural Revolution, he launched the "People's War" in 1996, recruiting thousands of youngsters including children into his Maoist army.

Lavish lifestyle

In recent years many former guerrillas have quit the party, accusing Prachanda and other leaders of betraying their sacrifices.

He has come under fire for his lavish lifestyle, notably when it emerged that he had rented a sprawling estate in Kathmandu that includes a 15-room mansion, parking space for more than a dozen vehicles, a building to house 70 guards and a table tennis room.

Another scandal erupted when the Maoist-led government acknowledged offering $250,000 to fund a Mount Everest expedition by Prachanda's son Prakash.

"He began to be seen as (someone) attracted to not just money and power but also to people outside the movement who were rich and powerful, abandoning the rank and file and alienating his base," said Aditya Adhikari, an author and expert on the Maoist movement.

As local media attacked the former guerrilla over his alleged fondness for expensive imported whisky and luxury brands, support for the Maoists plummeted and the party won just 80 out of 575 seats in the 2013 national polls.

Today, the Maoists are only the third largest party in parliament.

In a bid to strengthen his hand he joined with hardline Maoist splinter groups to form a new political party in May, withdrawing his support from the coalition government shortly afterwards.

Experts say the party's declining fortunes have pushed Prachanda to show greater willingness to compromise in recent years.

"Last time, I was inexperienced in the ways of competitive democracy. We still had a war mindset from the insurgency years," he told the Hindustan Times daily in a recent interview.

"Now, after 10 years in open politics, I have learnt the rules of competitive democracy."


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