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Prachandagate images old: PM

On a day when the Maoist protests were on the offensive in the capital, their leader and caretaker Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, appeared defensive and ill-at-ease as he clarified his position at a hurriedly-called press conference on the video scandal now popularly known as “Prachandagate”. Vijay Jung Thapa reports.

world Updated: May 07, 2009 02:59 IST
Vijay Jung Thapa

On a day when the Maoist protests were on the offensive in the capital, their leader and caretaker Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, appeared defensive and ill-at-ease as he clarified his position at a hurriedly-called press conference on the video scandal now popularly known as “Prachandagate”.

The video, shown on all Nepali news TV channels, shows Dahal, known by his nom de guerre Prachanda, telling his cadres that the country's peace process is no more than a “revolutionary tactic” to gain complete power.

Dahal is also shown saying how he had hoodwinked the UN verification process by inflating his cadres by five times so that many more of his men could be integrated into the Nepal Army.

“The video is one-and-a-half-years old. A lot of water has flown down the Bagmati since then,” he said in his defense. “At that time”, he added, “the peace process could still have been scuttled and my cadres had just come out of a 10 year war.”

He said since then the Maoists had agreed to fight an election, forming a constituent assembly and were committed to the peace process. “There could be many such videos that will come out. I think I should give you a few,” he added jokingly.

Answering a direct question, Dahal downplayed the India interference charge made by his party leaders, saying it had helped forge a 12-point agreement between the Maoists and Nepal's other major parties that paved the way for the end of deposed King Gyanendra's army-backed regime.

Maoist leaders had alleged an “Indian hand” in the current crisis over Nepal’s Army Chief Gen Rookmangud Katawal. The Maoist government had sacked the general for alleged disobedience but he was reinstated by President Ram Baran Yadav, which triggered the fall of the Maoist government.

But today, Dahal refused to be drawn into the issue of Indian interference. “All I can say is that we will not tolerate any kind of interference in our internal matters by our neighbours.”

Interestingly, all through this, his second-in command and Nepal’s finance minister, Baburam Bhattarai, who had launched a blistering attack on “India’s interference” sat quietly by Dahal’s side.

One reason for suddenly downplaying the “Indian card” could be that no one among the Nepali public is buying it. While Maoist workers displayed anti-Indian posters– which were quickly flashed back home by the large presence of Indian TV channels here – there is no real public anger against Indians.

“While Nepalis may feel Indian interests do play a part in the politics here, this time round the anger has not spilled into the streets,” says Ajaya Bhadra Khanal, editor of English daily The Himalayan.

What Dahal did make a big deal about was President Yadav’s refusal to sack Gen. Katawal, even after a cabinet approval.

He said the Maoists still were committed to the peace process – and even though there were conspiracies to make them take up arms again – they would not do so. “We believe in democracy. And we believe what has happened is unconstitutional. Let us fix that first.”

The Saturday deadline for formation of a new government (the 19th one in 19 years of democracy) will be difficult to meet. And forming a government, without the Maoists, who hold 238 seats in a 601-strong House, seems improbable – especially since a two-third majority is needed for framing the constitution.