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From a Maoist Guerrilla to Nepal’s PM: Is This Prachanda’s Encore or Swan Song?

A former guerrilla Maoist, who launched an armed insurgency against Nepal kingdom, returns as PM for a 3rd term.

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Edited By :Ahamad Fuwad

Video Producer: Akanksha Pandey

Video Editor: Prajjwal Kumar

At a time when Communist powers of the world, like the Soviet Union, were collapsing, and others like China continued their effort to politically and economically reform and stay competitive, a man in the remote part of the Kingdom of Nepal was set on promoting an ideology on the decline, one which served the illiterate and economically and socially destitute.

The leader of the Maoist insurgency that eventually played a critical role in abolishing the monarchy and establishing a federal republic in Nepal, he believed that democracy was not an alternative to armed struggle, but a product and “logical conclusion” of it. 

Close to 14 years since abolition of King Gyanendra’s monarchy, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) chairperson Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' has been appointed the prime minister of Nepal for a third time. 

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Better known by his nom de guerre Prachanda – which means “fierce” – he joined hands with CPN (Unified Marxist Leninist) chairperson and rival KP Sharma Oli and other smaller parties after a surprise pre-poll walkout from the ruling alliance led by Sher Bahadur Deuba's Nepali Congress.

But his journey to the PM’s office for a third time stretches much before last month’s hung results of the general elections. 

A ‘Revolutionary’ Is Born

In December 1954, an impoverished family west of Kathmandu saw the birth of their newest member – Chabilal Dhal, but little did they know that he would be better known by his three nom de guerres: Pushma Kamal, “Biswas,” and famously “Prachanda.” 

A regular boy who went to school and helped with chores, his childhood was modest, uneventful and notably, free of the revolutionary thought and ideology. But his circumstances were the fuel looking for a revolutionary fire. 

Dahal’s perspective completely changed after he witnessed his father get humiliated by a local money lender. 

Anirban Roy, in his book Prachanda, the Unknown Revolutionary, narrates and says , “…my father fell on the money lender’s feet. But the money lender kicked him. It lit a fire inside me. It was a political lesson I would never forget. It changed the course of my life.”

After watching his father being mortified, his interest towards books on revolutions grew. At an early age, he was indoctrinated into communism and was fascinated with the Chinese Cultural Revolution, which further pushed him towards the communist ideology. 

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It is believed that Prachanda begun his political life sometime in the mid-1970s, but it was only after he resigned from his job as a school teacher in 1979 and became a full member of the Communist Party that he completely devoted himself to the Communist cause. 

Within two years, he earned the name “Biswas” (trust) and led the All Nepal National Free Students’ Union, where he began spreading his roots deeper into the Communist Party, affiliating with several leaders including Mohan Vaidya and Bhakta Shreshta. 

After the party split into two factions, courtesy of ideological differences between the top brass, Dahal assumed the post of general secretary of the Mohan Vaidya-led CPN (Mashal).

He sold his land to fund the depleted party treasury and began re-organising the party. It was during this restructuring that his title was changed and he transformed himself from “Biswas” to “Prachanda.” 

Prachanda's Insurgency Ft. India

Familiarising himself with guerrilla warfare, Anirban Roy claims, Prachanda was trained by ex-Gorkha soldiers in India, also establishing a link with Ram Raja Pratap Singh, a Nepalese revolutionary in exile. One could sense his rigour for the communist cause as he visited several active insurgencies in India, studying the movements in Bihar and Jharkhand. 

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Through the insurgency, Prachanda walked a tightrope living underground in various parts of India for eight years while he threatened to combat India as well, eventually seeking Indian assistance in facilitating a peace process. 

A turning point in Prachanda’s violence-ridden insurgency was in 2002, when the Nepali conflict found itself in the midst of a Mexican standoff between the monarch, the Maoists, and Nepal’s paramilitary. Seeing this, Prachanda realised that the only long-standing solution to the crisis would be political. 

It is here that he sent a letter to then Indian National Security Adviser (NSA) Brajesh Mishra, through JNU academic and former diplomat SD Muni, where he established his intention to join peaceful politics and explained the rationale for the Maoist rebellion.

This was the moment the Indian intelligence agencies, while calling Nepali Maoists “terrorists” and continuing to arm the Royal Nepal Army, increased their communication with Nepali Maoists. 

Nudged forward by his deputy Baburam Bhattarai, Prachanda’s belief that winning and retaining power would need co-operation with India and Nepal’s parliamentary force, was reinforced. He waited for a time where he had more leverage over India, hoping to use it to bring pro-democratic parties, who had been kept out of the political system, into the fray. 

The moment King Gyanendra seemed to trip-up in 2005, when he unwisely trampled on democracy and consolidated power, while irritating India with his antics of restricting civil liberties, restraints on press freedom and constitutional protection from censorship. 

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Prachanda’s motives were on the cusp of fruition as Delhi expressed their willingness to bring Maoists into the political system. A political pact was signed between Maoists and parliamentary forces. Prachanda now gained the mainstream legitimacy that the Maoists longed for, while India was happy with their conclusion that the Maoists now turned a new leaf. 

Subsequently, after massive protests, called the April 2006 Nepalese general strike or 2006 Democracy movement, King Gyanendra was forced to give up his personal dictatorship and restore the dissolved parliament. 

In the Spotlight: Prachanda Becomes Prime Minister (Again)

The Maoists’ decade long war led to Prachanda’s ultimate victory: entry to Nepal’s parliament. After a remarkable victory in the Constitutional Assembly election, Prachanda was nominated for the PM’s post in August 2008.

Power sharing discussions lasted several months, while Prachanda pledged all his might in crafting a new constitution. He was eventually sworn in and remained in office until resigned after unsuccessfully trying to sack the Nepalese Army Chief. 

Compared to his positive fortune after entering parliament, Prachanda’s life entered a relative spiral when he was ridiculed after being slapped by a citizen in public. He was subsequently defeated by a lesser-known local activist in the 2013 Constituent Assembly election.

Three years later, in August 2016, he re-entered the PM’s office, only having to resign close to a year later to make way for Sher Bahadur Deuba as per an understanding between the two leaders. 

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Starting his third term after being sworn in on 26 December 2022, the former guerrilla leader inspired by Peru’s Shining Path communist movement is leading a nation which is on the brink of a brewing economic crisis.

With depleted foreign reserves and soaring balance of payment imbalance, many fear that Prachanda’s third term as prime minister may not follow the age old saying of ‘Third times’ the charm.’

For India, relations with Prachanda and his Communist Party have improved over the past few years, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party hosting him in July. However, an alliance of Nepal's two biggest communist parties, and their proximity to China is likely to set off some alarms in New Delhi.

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Topics:  Nepal   Maoist   Prachanda 

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