Kathmandu, Sept. 4: In his grey safari suit, Prachanda, the chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), can easily pass for a boxwallah from Calcutta. But there is nothing grey about his politics, which remains uncompromisingly radical.
In his avuncular manner, he seems to combine the élan of a statesman with the fleet-footedness of a politician. He seems completely at home in a small hotel strategically located on a hilltop about 45 minutes’ drive from the Nepalese capital.
“We want India to help institutionalise the people’s demand for a democratic republic in Nepal. The question is not whether India has a role in establishing peace in Nepal. It must have such a role,” the Maoist leader said.
Claiming that of late some doubts had arisen about India’s role in the peace process, Prachanda (aka Pushpakamal Dahal), said India must not “retreat” from its encouragement and support for establishing peace.
“If India retreats now and there is an attempt to compromise with the monarchy, it would be going against the wishes of the people who want a democratic republic,” he said, voicing a fear rampant in Kathmandu that New Delhi was perhaps not averse to a future role, albeit diminished, for the monarchy.
“The Indian government stood by Nepal earlier and played a positive role in helping us forge a common understanding with the political parties. The people of Nepal know that without the direct or indirect help of India, the 12-point understanding which became the basis of joint action with the political parties would not have been possible. India must not give up that role,” he said.
Just as the Maoist leader has suddenly started doubting Indian intentions, New Delhi is surprised by his talk of autonomy and self-determination for Kashmir and India’s Northeast as well as for saying that Nepal wants to be equidistant from China and India.
“India should not be surprised by my talking about autonomy and self-determination. This is our long-standing ideological position. We want to implement this in Nepal. Purely at a theoretical level we think that this is good for others, too. I have said this in the context of Tibet and other regions of China also,” he explained.
India must understand his statement in a positive context, Prachanda said. “If the Indian state expands the democratic rights of those who perceive themselves as oppressed minorities, the Indian republic will be strengthened, not weakened.”
What prompted him to equate Nepal’s relationship with India and China and talk about a desire to be “equidistant”' He was quoted in an interview as saying that Chinese weapons supply to King Gyanendra’s regime was for “stability” in Nepal. Did this not amount to cosying up to China and sending the wrong signal to India'
Prachanda laughed and said: “No, it is not like that. I had criticised the Chinese both in the party and in public when they supplied weapons to the autocratic monarchy.”
He explained “equidistant”. “We want to be equidistant from both our neighbours. However, that does not mean trying for equality of relationships or balancing one against the other. If we are closer politically and culturally to someone, that closeness will continue. Equidistant for me does not mean pushing someone away and bringing someone else closer,” he said, trying to assuage Indian fears.