The decision of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, or Prachanda (the furious one), to step down as the Prime Minister of Nepal following a crisis over his sacking of the army chief has the potential to push the Himalayan nation back on the warpath.
The resignation of the former Maoist guerilla leader is likely to trigger protests across the country, which saw a bloody “People’s War” for over a decade that left 13,000 people dead.
In a televised address on Monday, Prachanda, 54, said he was stepping down to protect democracy and ensure peace in Nepal, once the world’s only Hindu kingdom. The move came a day after President Ram Baran Yadav turned down his government’s decision to sack army chief General Rookmangud Katawal.
The Maoists are likely to take Yadav on as they feel he is still loyal to his Nepali Congress party, which is now in opposition. They argue that as the interim constitution describes the president as a ceremonial head, Yadav doesn’t have the power to turn down the decisions of an elected government.
In its campaign to end 240-year-old monarchy and turn Nepal into a republic, the Maoists, especially Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, had a distrust of Gen Katawal, foster brother of deposed monarch Gyanendra Shah. Katawal was adopted and brought up by Gyanendra’s father King Mahendra.
In the last one year, Gen Katawal has fiercely opposed the merger of the Maoist’s Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) with the army, triggering a direct confrontation with Thapa.
In the early days of his government, Prachanda got along fine with Gen Katawal. In fact, it was the PM who tried to broker peace between his defence minister and army chief.
But, pressure from senior Maoist party members — including his mentor Mohan Baidya and old friend Ram Bahadur Thapa — forced Prachanda’s hand on General Katawal.
“It is a graceful exit for him,” Shekhar Kharel, a Kathmandu-based journalist said, adding the other parties should now work towards ensuring a stable political situation in Nepal.
As uncertainty looms over the rehabilitation of PLA soldiers, even a small misstep can trigger another round of armed struggle. More than 19,000 PLA soldiers are camping in seven cantonments. Even as it comes to grips with the political crisis, Nepal is already grappling with poverty, acute shortage of power and petroleum products.
(Anirban Roy, who was HT’s correspondent in Kathmandu, is the author of Prachanda, the Unknown Revolutionary, an authorised biography of Prachanda)