Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Exclusive interview with Prachanda by Reputed German magazene

Former underground Maoist rebel leader Prachanda is set to become Nepal's first democratically elected prime minister. He spoke with SPIEGEL about political violence in Nepal, his relationship with the US and how being a rebel interfered with his family life.

(Photo: Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, is a former rebel leader and chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). Now he is set to become the first democratically elected prime minister of Nepal, in the second week of June.)

SPIEGEL: Nepal’s 240-year-old monarchy was abolished last Wednesday. Even as thousands of Nepalese celebrated the birth of the new republic with fireworks, music and dancing, seven bombs exploded in the capital Katmandu. Your decade-long Nepalese People’s War saw more than 10,000 people killed and only officially ended two years ago. Will the violence ever end?
Those explosions were just minor incidents and, fortunately, there were no casualties. Nobody in Nepal is discontent with the abolition of the monarchy. On the contrary, ever since we won the elections earlier this year, everyone has been celebrating a political festival of sorts and really welcomes the new republic.
SPIEGEL: A Katmandu businessman was brutally murdered by your Maoist comrades only last month. You apologized to his widow on behalf of your People’s Army and announced that the family of the slain man would be compensated. But coming from a future prime minister, surely that’s too little -- what about a judicial inquiry and adequate punishment for the murderers?
Please -- Rome was not built in a day. After decades of ruthless feudalism, it will take a while to properly establish the rule of law. A commission has already been set up to investigate that murder. My Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is the largest of the four parties in the new Constituent Assembly. We already have the mammoth task of rewriting the constitution ahead of us. I am very aware that, as head of the largest party, the lion’s share of the responsibility to see all this through is mine.
SPIEGEL: Hindu extremists in Nepal are said to be behind last week's blasts. They are unhappy at the dismantling of the world’s last Hindu kingdom. But even prominent members of Nepal’s business community consider it unwise of the new Constituent Assembly to have done away with King Gyanendra altogether. Lastly, you seem to forget that millions of poor Nepalese still believe that the king of Nepal has always been an incarnation of Vishnu, the most important Hindu god.
Prachanda: That's a huge exaggeration. First, it's just a handful of people who are Hindu chauvinists. Second, this business about the king -- and especially Gyanendra -- being an incarnation of Vishnu is an illusion. Ever since the massacre in 2001 of the former king, Birendra -- who is Gyanendra’s brother -- along with his entire family, most Nepalese believe that Gyanendra is no divine avatar but a murderer. Still, who says Gyanendra cannot remain a businessman, even as an ordinary citizen? If he contributes to Nepal’s gross domestic product, all the better.
SPIEGEL: That’s very generous of you. But a former head of state is hardly likely to be content with tending to his business interests in tobacco and hotels.
So, what does he want? To form a new political party? Absolutely no problem. If he wishes to compete with us, I would only welcome it.
SPIEGEL: Gyanendra has been given two weeks to vacate the Narayanhiti palace, the traditional royal residence. And yet, hundreds of Nepalese, euphoric over the formation of the new republic, demonstrated outside the palace last Wednesday and demanded that Gyanendra move out straightaway. Why? Are there any signs that the deposed king -- along with loyal members of the Nepal Army who are guarding him -- will conspire against the new assembly in the coming weeks?
Prachanda: I don’t think so. Within hours of the formation of the new republic, the royal flag was brought down, and the new flag was hoisted atop the palace. That was a clear sign of Gyanendra's acceptance of the new order. I will appeal to the Nepalese not to use any improper methods to push the king to vacate the palace straightaway. I am sure he will leave by himself: in a peaceful, graceful and dignified manner.
SPIEGEL: It has been two years since you joined the peace process and voluntarily placed most of your arms and 20,000 Maoist cadres under UN surveillance. It has been just months since international observers confirmed that the elections -- which you won with a majority -- were free and fair. And yet, Nepal’s Maoists remain on the United States' list of terrorist groups.
I met with several American officials last week. They assured me that we will soon be removed from that list and that Washington is looking forward to cooperating with us.
SPIEGEL: You've gone from being a powerful underground rebel to an even more powerful future prime minister of the new republic of Nepal. How does that feel?
I am happiest for the people of Nepal and their liberation from feudalism. It is their historic victory. Personally, it’s more complicated. As a rebel, I hardly had time for my wife and three children. Now, I have the serious feeling that my family life is going to get even more complicated. But I suppose that is the price I must pay.
Interview conducted by Padma Rao