Saturday, August 16, 2008

Who is Prachanda ?

Who is Prachanda ? extracts from an article on Prachanda by Anand Gurung for Nepal News called Prachanda's Long Walk: Rise Of A Rebel

A glimpse at Prachanda's childhood years and then as a devoted teacher during his younger more salad days before he turned into active politics might help in knowing the person behind the name Prachanda who is better known to the rest of the world as a leader of a violent Maoist insurgency in the strategically important place between India and China -- one who was the most elusive underground leader in the world till two years back with many in Kathmandu doubting if he even exists because, according to an editor of a leading English weekly, "so little was known about him during the first five years of the war" and who, rather uncomfortably, sits over/on top of so many transformations the nation has changed in the matter of two years.

Born into a poor peasant family from Tanahun near Pokhara in December 1954, Chhabi Lal Dahal, as Prachanda was known then, was the eldest of eight children.When he was just 6 years, the family was resettled, like hundreds of thousands of others from the mountain and hilly region of central and northern Nepal, in the cleared jungles of Terai flat-lands as part of the then King .

Mahendra's "nationalistic policy" to assert control in the restive south. Although malaria had just been eradicated, life in Chitwan, where the family had ended up, was not far better than the impoverished hills from where the families were lured to come here.

Wild-animals prowling in the nearby jungles were heard of attacking people, but it was the merciless money-lenders who made the lives of resettled families miserable amid the far-off government that never really cared for their plight.

But even during those difficult times Prachanda's father managed to raise his big family largely on subsistence-farming. Being the eldest, Prachanda was supposed to help his father in the fields to support the large family, but instead his father insisted he get good education and, much like many poor Nepali family hoped, grow up to become a "big person". Childhood friends as well as former neighbors remembers Prachanda as a "kind-hearted boy" who couldn't stand injustice.

"He really cared for the poor people in the village," said Prachanda's father Mukti Ram Dahal in a rare interview with Time Magazine back in 2004 when Maoist insurgency was still at its peak, "He used to share his food with them and tell us we shouldn't exploit them."

Belonging to a Brahmin family, which is considered "higher caste" by orthodox Hindus, Prachanda even used to readily mingle with lower-caste Dalit, or "untouchables" -something that was quite against the traditional societal set up of that time, giving a glimpse of a future revolutionary in the making.

Impressed by his generosity that went well with his gentle nature and handsome physique, his teachers changed his name to Pushpa Kamal, meaning ''Lotus Flower''. After passing his high school examinations (SLC) from Narayani Biddhya Mandir School the same year his deputy Dr Baburam Bhattarai topped it, Prachanda came to Kathmandu to join Patan Campus from where he finished his Intermediate in Science (ISc).

He was strongly influenced by Communist ideology while still in school, but it was only while studying in Kathmandu that he came into contact with the country's senior communist leaders and started becoming active in leftist politics. By the spring of 1981 he became a member of a small communist party named CPN (Masal) which was on the verge of suffering a split.

Thereafter, Prachanda came back to his hometown Chitwan to enroll in the US-funded Agriculture College in Rampur, a hotbed for student politics during the party-less Panchayati era, and from there finished his graduation. While growing up he had seen all the pains his poor but very hard-working parents went through to raise the big family as well as support his studies. In the village he had also seen how the rich lived their life in luxury while the poor had to live in a hand-to-mouth existence.

"From my childhood, I came to feel the meaning of poverty and inhuman exploitation," he once told an interviewer. The growing economic divide including the discriminations against lower castes Dalits he encountered first hand from childhood filled him with this immense sense of injustice which inspired him to commit his entire life to the mission of replacing the 'bourgeoisie' state with a 'proletariat' one through armed struggle.

His college friends say that everyone who met him would be very quickly impressed by his personality and passion for the things he held up to his own heart and would patiently listen to what he had to say. Especially, what struck them was his absolute confidence that the armed struggle inspired by Maoists would eventually triumph and bring about the desired change in the society, a belief which would later distance him from the senior communist leaders whom he used to admire and respect.

After finishing college in 1976 he went to Arughat in Gorkha district to teach in a local school, as it was mandatory for every college graduate to teach in one of the government designated school for one year. However, Prachanda spent the next two and a half years teaching in the school, during which time he earned a great deal of respect from both the students and their parents alike for the devotion to the teaching job.

In an article published in the Nepali Times, Satrughan Shrestha, a former student of Prachanda, remembers "Dahal Sir" as a talented teacher who stood out because he seemed to take his job of mentoring very seriously. So much so that in the evening he would drop by at the homes of his students to see if they were having any problems with homework. Apart from this, he also ran classes for illiterate adults once every week, use to show new farming techniques to the local farmers, and also get them acquainted with communist philosophy through the stacks of books by Marx, Lenin and Mao he used to keep under his bed.

After leaving the teaching job, he returned to Chitwan and briefly worked for a US funded project, and in the year 1978 started actively engaging in party politics, becoming a "whole timer" and a year later member of his party's Chitwan district committee. He climbed the political ladder rapidly in the next couple of years, becoming the chairman of the party's student wing in 1983 and a central member a year later.

Coming into the year 1990, when democracy was restored in the country, he had been entrusted with the post of general secretary of the party. But by that time the fissures in the party had grown to such an extent that it suffered a vertical split. This and the disagreement he had with his party's senior leader on ideological grounds later forced him to set up his own party with the name CPN (Maoist) in the year 1995. After a full one year preparing for the armed struggle, Prachanda declared the start of people's insurgency in 1996, and the rest, as they say it, is all history.

In the subsequent one decade, he led his party through violent insurgency in which the lives of 15,000 Nepalese were lost. Often times, his party cadres were involved in brutal tactics that led then government as well as governments of India and US to label Maoists as terrorists. Taking a cue out of the insurgency inspired by Comrade Gonzalo in Peru in the name of Senduro Luminoso, the violent insurgency in Nepal led to the rapid downfall of democracy that was restored in Nepal in 1990.

During the time he led the insurgency, Prachanda deftly played his cards – sometimes siding with the opposition parties to corner the ruling ones, sometimes talking about having working relation with monarchy and sometimes forcing the parties into his fold to isolate the same monarchy. He succeeded in creating irreparable rift among the parliamentarian parties.

It was after then King Gyanendra dismissed elected government to start his direct rule in February 1, 2005 that Prachanda – who was till then saying he was willing to hold talks with master (meaning the King) than the servants (meaning then government) – made an about turn. After months of wooing and negotiations, Prachanda signed 12-point pact with mainstream parties in November of 2005 in New Delhi – the capital of India – that he could finally isolate the monarchy and bring about an environment where the People's Movement of April, 2006 was able to force the King to relinquish power.

And after two months of further wheeling and dealing, the CA election took place, which catapulted his party into the single largest party albeit without clear majority

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