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Makeover of a Maoist revolutionary
Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi

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April 18, 2008 02:12 IST

True, Prachanda, otherwise, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, is not yet the President of Nepal and monarchy is yet to get the last push out. But for a revolutionary leader, Prachanda was remarkably complacent earlier this week, when he went to the Election Commission of Nepal to get his certificate of victory.

He sounded reasonable, ready for compromise and tried to tell the international community that he was not a radical Leftist with a single point foreign policy: opposition to India and the West.

Few know that there was some dispute among the Maoists on the timing of the election and the extent to which the militant group should participate in it to legitimise it. Till a day before the election, Prachanda's number two, Baburam Bhattarai, had warned that if the Maoists lost the election, it would take them "ten minutes" to lay claim to Kathmandu.

The suggestion that the Maoists should launch the urban revolution in Nepal was made by the Ram Bahadur Badal faction of the party, but as the individual in question has won a resounding victory from Chitwan, it is unlikely that revolution will be on his agenda for the foreseeable future.

So have the Maoists in Nepal been tamed? Are they going to go the way of other radical movements around the rest of the world, humbled and defanged by democratic politics?

It all depends on how the chairperson of the party, Prachanda, gets his comrades to handle their victory.

The man, who sat in an aircraft for the first time in his life when he came to India two years ago, will have two important tasks: Winning over the international community and keeping the respect of his comrades.

The first is not hard. A window of negotiation is open through India, for persuasion with the US to recognise the Maoists as a credible political alternative. They are currently banned as a terrorist group by the US. India is likely to win brownie points for this with the Maoists if it gets down to this.

How the Maoists handle the People's Republic of China should be cause of concern for India -- from 'miscreants' as they were originally characterised by the Chinese, the Maoists have become the keeper of the keys. If a ripe fruit falls in your lap, eat it, is not a Chinese saying but it could become one.

However, what India, China and all of Nepal's neighbours should be most worried about is the party general secretary's capacity to hold back the miscreants in his own party. As the Maoist project of the integration of the People's Liberation Army with the Nepalese Army and police gains ground, how the Young Communist League is de-ideologised is to be seen.

There is another aspect to this. In April 2007, although a Maoist sympathiser was in place as Nepal's information and communication minister, he couldn't prevent a Miss Nepal beauty contest at the Birendra International Convention Centre in Kathmandu from being shown on state-owned Nepal TV.

The minister, KB Mahara, had to apologise to protestors -- mostly Maoists, including an important woman Maoist, Hishila Yami -- because the police lathicharged some of them. The contest was sponsored by an Indian consumer goods company which has considerable interests in Nepal and had a contract with Nepal TV. Mahara had to compromise.

Nepal watchers are citing the incident to show how Maoists will have to come to terms with their new status. But the management of the transition will be in Prachanda's hands. How he handles it is yet to be seen.

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