The Fierce One

Six years after ending a bloody, decade-long civil war, Maoist leader Prachanda continues to fight for power in a politically turbulent Nepal

01 February 2013
A clean-shaven Prachanda presides over a meeting of Maoist combatants in 2001. At its height, the People’s Liberation Army had an estimated 19,000 active soldiers.
DINESH SHRESTHA FOR THE CARAVAN
A clean-shaven Prachanda presides over a meeting of Maoist combatants in 2001. At its height, the People’s Liberation Army had an estimated 19,000 active soldiers.
DINESH SHRESTHA FOR THE CARAVAN

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ON THE AFTERNOON of 16 November 2012, Padam Kunwar stood in line at Kathmandu’s Bhrikutimandap exhibition complex, waiting to shake hands with Nepal’s former prime minister, the Maoist revolutionary Prachanda. Several marquees had been erected in the gated entertainment park, which thronged with thousands of people, including journalists, politicians, former government officials, foreign diplomats, and supporters of Prachanda’s ruling Maoist party. The function, organised by the Maoists to mark the ethnic Newari New Year 1133, had a festive air. Inside a huge tent open to the streets, Prachanda, the Maoist party chairman, sat on a stage draped with his party’s hammer-and-sickle banner, flanked by Nepal’s current prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai, a long-time party rival, and by opposition leaders from the country’s centrist Nepali Congress and Unified Marxist-Leninist parties. Around 3 pm, Prachanda, a former guerrilla commander who led Maoist forces in a decade-long revolt against the state, gave a short speech stressing the need for political consensus. Afterwards, he began to shake hands with people in the eager crowd.

Kunwar had not intended to visit the event. He had only learned about it earlier that afternoon, during an idle shopping trip to the city centre, he later told me. As he haggled with a roadside clothes vendor, the 27-year-old overheard people talking about the reception, and decided to attend. Approaching the venue, amplified sounds of Maoist leaders making speeches had reached him in the street. He looked forward to meeting some of these former guerrillas, who just six-and-a-half years before had come over-ground to participate in electoral politics. Perhaps, he thought, he could complain to them about woes his family was facing. When he learned that Prachanda was shaking hands with supporters, he queued up. It would be his first chance to meet the former revolutionary—a memorable day.

Deepak Adhikari  is a Kathmandu-based journalist with Agence France Presse (AFP).

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