By Prateek pradhan
Editor , the Kathmandu Post
Pic by Narayan Wagle
Together with Narayan Wagle, editor of the Kantipur daily, I embarked on the journey to interview Prachanda alias Puspa Kamal Dahal.
We were neither nervous nor excited. We were only apprehensive that Prachanda, the supreme commander of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-Maoist), underground for over 30 years and leading the armed rebellion in Nepal for ten years, would really see us in person. We were not excited because we were not sure about publishing the interview; it would depend hugely on what he would have to say. More ominously we were worried about threats from both the armies if our movement was tracked.
On the set date and time, two people met us at a pre-destined location and escorted us to a simple house. A flight of stairs led to a small room where two people were already sitting. I recognized Dr Baburam Bhattarai, and it was not difficult to guess that the other person was Prachanda.
After shaking hands, we formally introduced ourselves. I mentioned that it would have been difficult to recognize Prachanda from the pictures that their party has so far released. I also reminded Dr Bhattarai that I had done his interview (along with Kantipur’s Guna Raj Luitel) when he was above ground for the second round of peace talks in Kathmandu in 2003.
During the peace talks, I (along with my colleague Ameet Dhakal) had done a life profile of Prachanda. I told Prachanda how we met all his family members at Devghat, when his youngest sister’s son’s chudakarma (a religious sanctity ceremony) was being performed.
In the meantime, Dr Bhattarai spoke about my article published in the Post on the 1st of February. He was not much satisfied. He said I had kept both the royal regime and the Maoist at equidistant. I told him that until the Maoists abandoned arms and came to the mainstream politics, we would never support them. However, both of us were not in a mood to accentuate the debate at the beginning of the interview. So, we tacitly avoided the issue.
It was a small room. A single bed, much higher than normal beds, was placed at a corner, and a sofa set was placed 90 degrees to the bed, leaving space for a small table between the bed and the sofa chairs at one side. The Maoist leader duo sat at one side and gestured us to sit on the other. When Baburam and I were discussing about my article, Prachanda climbed onto the bed.
“Baburamji, I will sit on the bed, it is easier for me from here, alright?” Prachanda addressed Bhattrai, as if seeking the latter’s consent. He then made himself more comfortable by placing a pillow on his lap (I remembered Mahara, another senior Maoist leader, who had sat exactly the same way, when I interviewed him during the ceasefire in 2003).
Once settled on the bed Prachanda asked why the current regime was totally against the media and Kantipur Publications in particular. We told him that it was because we support the people’s cause and flay the government for its inefficiency. Moreover, we were opposing this government because it was unconstitutional.
“We suffered when Koirala was prime minister; we suffered when Deuba was in the power. Now we are suffering during the royal regime, and we believe we will suffer even if your party comes to power,” we said. All of us laughed.
Then we started the formal interview and switched on the recorder. When Narayan started asking questions, I found Prachanda putting a bit extra effort in listening. Until he spoke, we did not know how he would react. However, when he spoke, we found him quite straightforward, uncomplicated, and he successfully showed his concerns to resolve the current crisis. He did not hesitate to answer any question, and not once did he ask to have the recorder switched off, throughout two hours of the interview. His simple Nokia mobile set (it was obviously not a sophisticated gadget or a satellite phone) rang quite a few times but he answered only once during the entire period. Interestingly, Baburam’s phone did not ring, maybe it was off.
“Demystified!” was the first word Narayan uttered after coming out from the interview venue. The interview would really demystify many, as we had been. The person was no longer a mystery, nor a phantom. He was a simple, unassuming middle-aged person with a passable look. The interview had also demystified many about his existence, and his party’s plans and programs. We were happy that the interview came out quite positive for peace and reconciliation, so we were both positive about publishing it.
I believe Prachanda provided interview to the Post and Kantipur to win the confidence of the middle class Nepali bourgeois with whom they have been unable to establish a rapport. They wanted to convince this mass that the Maoists are serious about peace, if the government shows seriousness. They also wanted to convince the political parties about their intention to go along with the 12-point agreement. They hinted to the parties that no single party should go it alone to hold talks with the king.
With the interview, Prachanda made maximum gains, as he successfully established his humanitarian, pro-peace and political image among the general public. They have also thrown the ball once again to the king’s court. They have given a clear choice to the king, either choose to reconcile or take the risk of pushing even democratic political parties to an armed revolution for a republican state. Now Nepali people are eagerly expecting the formal reaction to the insurgents’ peace bid.
UWB: This article originally appeared on the Post.
1. Editors’ Face To Face With Prachanda