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Maoist chief Prachanda takes stab at peace

The rebels are for cabinet positions and seats in parliament, after the teacher-turned-revolutionary signed a peace deal with the Govt.

india Updated: Nov 22, 2006 12:51 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

After 25 years underground and a decade of armed struggle across Nepal's jungles and hills, Maoist leader Prachanda has finally declared an end to his warrior ways.

His rebels are set for cabinet positions and seats in parliament, after the teacher-turned-revolutionary signed a historic peace deal with the ruling parties late on Tuesday.

The deal marks a formal end to the landlocked, impoverished Himalayan nation's civil war -- and will be a key test for a man whose nom-de-guerre means "the fierce one".

A front page editorial in Wednesday's Kathmandu Post, however, called him a "true hero".

"Without his flexibility, understanding, vision and love of the nation, the peace accord would not have been possible," it wrote.

Prachanda is still viewed by many Nepalis as a ruthless warlord -- responsible for deadly attacks and executions during the revolt that claimed at least 12,500 lives.

The United States has also placed the Maoists on its list of international terrorist organisations.

But for others in Nepal, Prachanda is a hero who took up arms to improve the lives of millions in one of the world's poorest nations.

Born into a high caste but poor farming family 52 years ago, Prachanda -- whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal -- was a "brilliant" school student and gained a degree in agriculture, according to a profile in weekly news magazine Nepal.

But the extreme poverty he witnessed in rural Nepal spurred an interest in politics and he moved politically to the left.

"From his high school days he had a growing interest in politics and one of his neighbours was a communist activist who inspired him to become a communist," the magazine said.

Married with three children, his interest grew in far-left communist groups that emerged in the country in the late 1960s, after the father of the current King Gyanendra banned political parties.

The chaotic Cultural Revolution in neighbouring China inspired him, as did Peru's Shining Path Guerrillas, who also took their inspiration from the revolutionary theories of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong.

He went underground and, although he never fought in combat himself, became chief military strategist of a group of rebels committed to a "Marxism-Leninism-Maoism" ideology.

Although their ideology appealed to Nepal's low caste, women and ethnic minority groups, the rebels also used indoctrination, intimidation, murder, kidnapping and extortion to cement their control, human rights groups said.

From a rag-tag collection of a few dozen fighters with home-made weapons, Prachanda built up a fearsome force that took control of large swathes of the Nepalese countryside.

Prachanda, who speaks fluent English, claimed, in villages under Maoist control, to have dismantled feudalistic practices. But a cult of personality started to emerge in 2001, and he was revered as a demi-god by some supporters.

His "Prachanda Path" was touted as a new form of communism.

Initially, the rebel leader said his aim was to make Nepal into a communist republic, but now he has tempered those demands, saying he is willing to take part in a multi-party democratic system.

"We are 21st-century communists. We are not dogmatic. We are trying to develop our line, policy and programme for the changed situation," Prachanda said in a recent interview.

"We have seen revolution and counter-revolution in the 20th century, and Stalin's experiment failed. We do not want to repeat the same phenomenon."

First Published: Nov 22, 2006 12:51 IST