Why is Prachanda so reckless when it comes to his public utterances? The answer could be worrying.
By Ameet Dhakal
Public perception of leaders changes with time. But the public image of Maoist Chairman Prachanda is changing rather fast.
Before the April Movement, when the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was still at war, the public image of Prachanda (left) was true to his name – the fierce one. In the post-war period that image underwent a metamorphosis: With his broad grin, often ear-to-ear, people found him friendly and amenable. During crucial negotiations he demonstrated much-needed courage and flexibility, building up an image of bold and practical leadership.
Lately, however, another defining characteristic of Prachanda’s is emerging – that of a loose talker. Don’t agree? Consider these eight public gaffes he committed over the past one year.
June 8, 2006: He actually bungled his first public appearance. Addressing media persons after he first met with the eight-party leaders at the prime minister’s official residence at Baluwatar, Prachanda said the army should be reduced to 20,000 in size since it had no purpose but to kill the sons of the people and engage in rape. A week or so after making the comment he apologized for it.
November 20, 2006: Addressing journalists in New Delhi, he said that the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI had offered help to his party through direct and indirect means but he had turned down the offer since it was not in the interest of the Nepali people and India.
March 2, 2007: When journalists asked him why the Maoists had surrendered only a little over 3,000 weapons while they had placed over 30,000 combatants in the cantonments, Prachanda said, “A sizeable chunk of our weapons were swept away by the river.” Next day a blogger wrote in: “Prachandaji where is the river?”, and then answered himself, “Dried out suddenly”.
March 8, 2007: Addressing a mass meeting in Pokhara, Prachanda made yet another sensational revelation. He said the royalists were trying to kill American officials and put the blame on the Maoists and he even claimed to have concrete proof. Two days later the US embassy issued a statement asking the Maoists to share the information with the government and the embassy. The statement even took him to task: “If he had no such information then his remarks are both irresponsible and dangerous”.
March 12, 2007: Speaking at a program in Baglung, Prachanda said that the Maoists had left thousands of combatants and sophisticated weapons outside the cantonments. Two days later he said he was just being satirical and the media misunderstood him.
May 6, 2007: Referring to the terai problem, Prachanda said, “Give us full authority and we will solve all the problems in the terai within 15 days”. Once he had publicly said that the Nepali Army and the Maoists army could both be mobilized to tackle the terai unrest.
June 6, 2007: Expressing public anger against India over media reports that it had suggested to the UML to enter into an alliance with the Nepali Congress to safeguard the peace process, Prachanda told reporters in Butwal, “Delhi’s statement has enraged us. India has no right to keep some parties close to itself and distance others. We want an answer why India said that.” A few days later Prachanda issued a statement saying there was no longer any misconception between India and the Maoists.
July 16, 2007: Prachanda charged UNMIN of conspiring against the Maoists. He claimed during the first phase of verification in Ilam that the Maoists had recovered a suspicious UNMIN document that revealed its intention to reduce the rebel force by 40 percent.
July 16, 2007: Speaking in Butwal, Prachanda said the government should deploy the Young Communist League (YCL) along with the Armed Police Force (APF) to maintain law and order during the CA poll. “If the APF alone is deployed, it will be a suicidal effort.”
Why is Prachanda so reckless when it comes to his public utterances? The answer could be worrying. Maybe his judgment of situations is often wrong; maybe he jumps to conclusions too fast; maybe he is so impulsive that he can’t restrain himself from making public comments even if they are not well thought out.
Some of his public statements even indicate that his trust for others is too fragile- you can call it the impact of war. Take for instance his reaction against India over its supposed suggestion to the UML to work closely with the NC to save the peace process. There was nothing to panic about. After all, the NC and UML have fought together for parliamentary democracy since 1990 and are the most trusted of political forces when it comes to commitment to the multiparty system. Maybe, the Maoists are equally committed, though they are yet to pass the test of time. But Prachanda became overly suspicious of Indian motives and hastened to call for a public explanation, only to retract this two days later in a roundabout way.
His statement that the UNMIN was conspiring against the Maoists is no less serious. The UN has its own credibility to uphold when it comes to neutrality. That is why all of us (SPA, Maoists, civil society, media) supported and lobbied for its presence here despite initial misgivings on the part of India and the United States. But Prachanda publicly questioned that very neutrality-the UN’s greatest asset for third-party facilitation in post-war periods – and leveled a serious accusation against the world body. If he had believed his allegations to be true, he would not have agreed to resumption of the verification process three days after his public outburst.
One or two public gaffes by a high profile leader are normal. But when a pattern emerges it raises serious questions about the stuff the leader is made of.
The chairman had better mind his tongue!
Ameet Dhakal is the News Editor of the Kathmandu Post where this article first appeared today. He could be reached at ameet(at)kantipur.com.np