Sunday, July 26, 2015

Be Of Good Cheer, Comrade Prachanda

It’s quite tempting to dismiss them as rants of a broken man. Yet the frustration Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, Chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN), vented in public the other day deserves our collective attention.
“Whenever we meet for a party meeting, we share similar views”, Dahal said, referring to his party colleagues Baburam Bhattarai and Narayan Kaji Shrestha.  “I have no idea what happens when we hold separate meetings [and when] we only talk of our group.”
Although UCPN leaders shared the same ideology and strategies, Dahal contended, they tended to criticize one another during factional meetings. “No matter what I do, there is always fault in it,” Dahal said. “Prachanda is the only one to be blamed. [It’s almost as if a] dirty person turns clean if Prachanda is criticized.”
Surely, our comrade is not as naïve as he sounds. Once he emerged in public 2006 from decades of shadowy subterraneous existence, the only direction Dahal could go was down. The “people’s war” had acquired such mythical status in the anti-monarchy struggle that the mainstream parties found it politically expedient to take a back seat in the months following the April Uprising.
Civil society leaders sung paeans to the purity of the Maoists’ pursuit of violence in defense of the people, contrasting it with the venal bloodthirstiness of royal army. A large section of the international community, even while supporting the Nepali state’s campaign against terrorism, romanticized the rebels.
The prevailing narrative? The supreme commander of the army that liberated the people must be endowed with phenomenal powers. Dahal, as a consummate politician, was never going to puncture that perception. Nepalis and everyone else would have to judge him by his actions.
To be fair, as prime minister, Dahal did try to break new ground. He defied convention and made Beijing his first foreign port of call. Weeks later, he tried to assuage his Indian hosts that, technically, his first official visit was indeed to the south, considering that he had flown up north only to attend the Olympics.
A few months later, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, he met with US President George W. Bush, even if briefly in a group setting. All in all, within his first 100 days in office, Dahal had met with the leaders of China, India and the United States, the three principal drivers of the country’s destiny.
Anyone familiar with the intricacies of Nepali politics knew that was not going to sit well domestically. The questions Dahal started getting from reporters upon his return from foreign trips were telling. (“Which relatives did you take on your trips and how many dollars per day did the state spend on them?” “Can you explain why, as a warrior for the poor and downtrodden, you lavish in the official luxury of Baluwatar?”)
Of course, Dahal’s personality and temperament did a lot to do him in. Days after accusing the Indians of having masterminded his ouster as premier, he gave interviews to Indian reporters on how he had sought greater intervention from New Delhi in resolving the crisis precipitated by his standoff with the incumbent army chief.
Old videos and new vitriol combined to create in the public mind an image of someone who was unstable, self-serving and outright slimy. Bhattarai must have had a lot of old grudges. Shrestha, himself a surprising entrant to the top echelons of the party, could hardly have been expected to relish the halo Dahal monopolized. Mohan Baidya’s agony over the ideological drift gripping his one-time protégé and Netra Bikram Chand’s outrage over Dahal’s abandonment of the cause could easily mesh with their more personal prejudices. Leaders of the other parties were merely biding their time. The surprise therefore is that it took Dahal so long to speak out.
Yes, Comrade Dahal, people criticize you to cleanse themselves. But be of good cheer and use that line as your battle cry. It might help to cleanse the body politic, after all.