Changing stripes of Prachanda - Capitalist or communist, Nepal PM has a face for every occasion

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By SANKARSHAN THAKUR in Delhi
  • Published 18.09.08
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New Delhi, Sept. 17: Prachanda wriggled out of two scheduled press meets during his first visit to the capital as Nepal’s Prime Minister. His delegation put it down to “logistical confusion” but the real reason may lie in an odd irony: it wasn’t that Prachanda had things to shy away from, it was that he had put out too much of himself.

During his two-day whistle-stopping of power destinations in Delhi, Prachanda left his trail a little befuddled by pulling on too many contrary faces; in any direct interaction with the media, questions would have been asked about the real Prachanda. Revolutionary or revisionist? Radical or reformer? Iconoclast or conservative? Marxist or capitalist?

On the evidence of what he told his different audiences, the new Nepali premier could have been all of those, a living likeness of Winston Churchill’s famed description of Soviet Russia — “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.

His first outing was a session with industry czars and the Maoist spoke like a market propagandist. “Capital is critical in today’s world and the private sector is its engine, we want you all in Nepal, please come, this is a win-win opportunity for both of us,” he told them.

Perhaps after the fashion of his Indian counterpart, who professes no love for anything Left, leave alone Maoist or revolutionary, Prachanda is eyeing a 10 per cent growth rate for Nepal and made seductive noises to enlist Indian industry into that effort. A Dabur unit in Nepal was recently shut down by Prachanda’s cadres, but here he was unfurling promises of a new prosperity for industry, even special economic zones along the Indo-Nepal border if big business so desired.

He made an impassioned pitch for capital injection again the next afternoon at a gathering of Delhi’s influential elite at the India International Centre.

“We are a nation in transition,” he said. “But we are firmly committed to fundamental freedoms and we know we cannot do without the market. Having played a constructive role in this transition to a new democracy, it is now also India’s responsibility to take the process ahead by investing in Nepal.”

Barely hours before that, he had been speaking to a select set of “friends and sympathisers”, several of whom had arranged shelter and transit for Prachanda during his underground years.

Behind closed doors at the Nepali embassy, the revolutionary was in prime play. The “comprador bourgeoisie”, Prachanda told them, was the “main enemy” of the “revolution” the Maoists were trying to effect in Nepal.

“I speak to you not as Nepal’s Prime Minister but as a comrade,” he told them. “Objective conditions in Nepal are not ripe yet for a communist republic, but we have not given up. A formal parliamentary democracy as the world understands it is not acceptable to us, we will have to build a new democracy, something between a parliamentary democracy and a revolutionary one. Kranti samapt nahin hui hai, usko purna karna baaki hai (The revolution has not happened fully, it needs to be completed).”

But the revolutionary had vanished yet again when Prachanda met top leaders of the BJP who have oft bemoaned the demise of the world’s only Hindu kingdom. But they could have been fooled about reports about the slaying of their gods at the hands of Nepal’s ascendant Reds.

Prachanda was music to their ears, making elaborate references to the “indelible links” between Ayodhya and Janakpur, assuring them that the “Hindu essence” of Nepali society could not and would not be altered.

So which one is the real Prachanda? The Nepali premier was clear he didn’t want to face that question on his maiden visit. But those who have closely followed the Maoist — Nepalis and Indians — are guessing that Prachanda’s many faces on display are not a case of schizophrenia, much less of duplicity.

“He is new and probably still a little insecure in the job. He is merely trying to reach out to all sections on his first visit,” said a member of Prachanda's delegation. “There has been consistent negative speculation in India about Prachanda and the Maoists, I think he is keen to allay any doubts or suspicions that might exist. Importantly, he went a little out of his way to assure the BJP, he is looking as much at the future of ties as at their present.”

It is fairly well known that the Maoist surge in the elections earlier this year took New Delhi entirely by surprise; Prachanda was not the horse it was backing. But it quickly reconciled to Nepal’s changed political reality and stuck to a strict hands-off policy, allowing independent play to the churn in Nepali politics.

Prachanda’s ascent to premiership after prolonged negotiations between Nepali power players is probably a sign India refrained from hidden-hand manipulations in Kathmandu. Prachanda has responded by donning as many faces as were required to please.