I followed Maoist chairman Prachanda’s election campaign trail in Kathmandu-10 election constituency last week for a few days. I watched him addressing a few small gatherings of his supporters and general public that was either sympathetic to the party or undecided about whom to vote. Only a few were critical of the Maoist party. After addressing a mass meeting in his constituency Prachanda also went to see the families of two former PLA guerillas who were disappeared during the insurgency. In front of the house of one of the disappeared guerilla, the chairman addressed a small gathering of a few dozen people for a few minutes. Here is the story:
By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
Ratnamaya Shrestha, 46, (left) listened to the Prachanda speech standing about two hundred meters away from where Prachanda was speaking (in Kot Ghar, Thankot). The housewife, a registered voter from the area, said: “He talked about making a new city. But here we have scarcity of cooking gas. We have problem with load shedding. Here is scarcity of daily consumption materials. He didn’t talk about this.”
Kot Ghar, Thankot (Friday 7th March): As soon as he got off the SUV with dark windshield on the main road Comrade Prachanda received vermilion powder and garlands from his supporters who were waiting for him to appear in the constituency (Kathmandu-10’s Thankot area). As Prachanda walked towards the mass meeting venue, Kot Ghar a cultural center of the neighborhood where animals are scarified during the largest Hindu festival Dashain and other festivities are organized, two men continuously played the traditional Newari musical instruments. It was about nine in the morning.
While four members of People’s Liberation Army walked on both sides of Prachanda a team of eight policemen from the Armed Police Force formed a circle around the leader. Members of Young Communist League were keeping general people on the street from coming too close to the leader. Receiving garlands and vermilion powder, he reached the stage where the emcee welcomed him with this note: “The victory march of towards the republic of the liberated people has begun. The new voyage that will to go through Kirtipur to Chhaimale (two places of the Kathmandu-10 constituency from where Prachanda is standing for the CA elections) has begun.”
After the Kot Ghar, Thankot speech was over, Prachanda drove a few minutes to see the family of two of the disappeared members of the Peoples’ Liberation Army. Kedar Shretha, father of Sachindra who disappeared during the insurgency, said: “[Prachanda inquired about our family. He said he was emotional about the disappearance of my son. He talked about my son’s contribution in the Peoples’ War.” Standing just in front of the gate of the house, Prachanda addressed (above) a small spontaneous gathering of the neighborhood that was there to see the face of the leader who led a violent movement. “Comrades Nischal (another disappeared PLA guerilla) and Suchindra are staying inside our eyes and hearts. This election is about thousands of martyrs and those who were disappeared.” The lady standing on Prachanda’s right is Sita, his wife. The kid is their daughter who was also present in another mass meeting the next day. The little girl was seated in a chair along with her mother. At one point, she went to the lap of her father. After seeing her engaged with herself and making facial expression etc, apparently not affected by the activities of mass meeting, a foreign correspondent commented: “She is bored out of her mind.” Later on, I joked: “She might revote against her father for the boredom!”
The Prachanda verbatim: While standing before you today I remember that day some 250 years ago when Prithvi Narayan Shah had come here before attacking Kathmandu valley. He launched the campaign to establish a centralized and unitary nation state where one language and one caste rules.
Today we are here to see the fall of the 250 year old unitary centralized state. That old state has crumbled and only the cremation has remained to be performed.
People can interpret my candidacy from here and Rolpa-2 in their own varied ways. But this is not a normal coincidence. This is not a normal election. This is the climax of the process of changing an era. My candidacy has symbolic importance. We started the great People’s War from Rolpa and one of the last qualitative attacks of the War was bravely conducted here in Thankot (Police Post). You people heartily welcomed that action (Thankto attack). That attack reaffirmed the historical role of Thankot. Thankot played the role in the old state and for the new state as well. As the gateway of the Valley, Thankot was used by the Shah king as a point from where he made plans to attack the valley. We used Thankot as our last attack incident to end the Bahunist feudal state that is dominated by one language and one group.
I have an emotional and ideological relationship with Rolpa. In Thankot, we have had the last hit of the People’s War. Thankot also played a role to bridge war and peace. It bridged the Peoples’ War to the Peoples’ Movement [of April 2006].
Economic revolution is necessary to make the political revolution complete. Economic revolution depends on political revolution.
Nepal is not a poor country. It has plenty of natural resources. Nepali people can labor hard. The only problem with Nepal until now is that the political leadership lacked willpower, plans and honesty.
The railway line from Lhasa should be brought to Kathmandu. That should be extended to Pokhara and Lumbini.
India and China are having intense economic growth. We must take advantage of that.
This is not my personal candidacy. Thankot can become an important place in our campaign to make a New Nepal. A new city could be developed in an organized way from Thankot to Dackchhinkali (another village of the Kathmandu-10 constituency).
After the Kot Ghar (Thankot) speech, Prachanda went to address a mass meeting in Pharping. He stopped for launch in a restaurant where a long queue of people welcomed him with garlands and vermilion powder.
When Prachanda stopped for launch in a restaurant in Pharping before addressing a mass meeting a long queue of people welcomed him with garlands and vermilion powder (above). One of the people standing in the queue was Achyut Karki, 55 (below). I talked to him while Prachanda was about 30 meters away receiving flowers from others. “Someone told me that some leaders are coming here,” he said. He didn’t know who was coming.
Ratnamaya Shrestha, 46, listened to the 25-minutes long speech standing about two hundred meters away from where Prachanda was speaking. The housewife and a registered voter from the area talked to me after the speech was over:
“It’s good to see him speaking and giving speech,” said the woman. “He talked about making a new city. But here we have scarcity of cooking gas. We have problem with load shedding. Here is scarcity of daily consumption materials. He didn’t talk about this. That’s our problem these days. If that gets solved, the country would be better.”
Ratnamaya said she hasn’t made up her mind as to whom to vote in the election though she said she planned to vote. “I need to hear more from him before deciding to vote him,” she said about Prachanda.
After the speech was over, Prachanda drove a few minutes to see the family of two of the disappeared members of the Peoples’ Liberation Army. Kedar Shretha, father of Suchindra who disappeared during the insurgency, said: “[Prachanda inquired about our family. He said he was emotional about the disappearance of my son. He talked about my son’s contribution in the Peoples’ War.”
Standing just in front of the gate of Kedar’s house, Prachanda addressed a small spontaneous gathering of the neighborhood that was there to see the face of the leader who led a violent movement.
“Comrades Nischal (another disappeared PLA guerilla) and Suchindra are staying inside our eyes and hearts. This election is about thousands of martyrs and those who were disappeared. The big issue of the election is whether martyrs and disappeared will win or agents of status quo.
“I am not the one who is speaking this at the gate of the house of Suchindra. He is speaking.”
Maoist affiliated local water resource utilization organization organized a program in Matatirtha village to talk about the water management. That was only an excuse, the program was all about election and campaign for the Maoist party. Prachanda attended and spoke at the show that was entertained by comedian Manoj Gajurel. Prominent medical doctor Arun Sayami endorsed Prachanda as the first future president of Nepal.
Purna Kumari Maharjan, 60, a housewife who never went to a school, was sitting at the courtyard of her house that was attached to the public ground where other people gathered to listen to Prachanda. The resident of Na Gaun in Kirtipur said that she hasn’t decided whom to vote: “Whoever the good people comes to ask for my vote, I will give to him.”
As Prachanda was walking towards his car, I asked him how he felt while entering the home of one of the disappeared and talking to the families. He replied: “My heart becomes sensational.”
After that Prachanda went to take part in a rally in Pharping. He stopped for launch in a restaurant where a long queue of people welcomed him with garlands and vermilion powder. One of the people standing in the queue was Achyut Karki, 55. I talked to him while Prachanda was about 30 meters away receiving flowers from others.
Why are you here today?
“Someone told me that some leaders are coming here.”
Who are those leaders?
“No idea. I don’t know.”
He gave the flower to Prachanda and shook his hands. He didn’t talk to Prachanda. A registered voter from Dullu of Sheshnarayan VDC, he said he hasn’t decided as to whom to cast the vote. He said he hoped that the election will bring justice to all people in the village.
Nah Gaun in Kirtipur (Monday, 10th March): Prachanda addressed a small town-hall type meeting kind of gathering on Monday (10 March) evening in a neighborhood called Nah Gaun in Kirtipur (his constituency). Most of the participants in the gathering were housewives and men who had returned to their home from their day job in the city. The courtyard of the neighborhood was decorated with white flags printed in red color the election symbol of the Maoist party: the hammer and sickle inside a circle. The courtyard traditionally sees public and cultural functions of the neighborhood including community poojas and jatras. A banner hung just above the stage read in Newari language: Sahalaha Mujya (Consultation meeting of the neighborhood).
Many of the participants were seated on the sukul, a mat made up of hay.
Purna Kumari Maharjan, 60, a housewife who never went to a school, was sitting at the courtyard of her house that was attached to the public ground where other people gathered to listen to Prachanda. She said: “Prachanda is coming here.”
Have you decided whom to vote in the election?
“No. Whoever the good people comes to ask for my vote, I will give to him. Whoever promises me cheaper price, drinking water. I will not give vote to those who hike the price.”
Have you seen Prachanda before?
“No, never. That’s why I am sitting here to listen to him.”
Whom will you give you vote?
“I will decide that at the time of voting. Now whoever comes here to ask my vote, I will just say yes to him and that’s it, finished! I don’t tell anyone I will not vote you. I tell all of them I will vote you. But I can vote to only one and that I will decide at the time of voting.”
28-year-old Manju Poudel is originally from Gorkha where Maoist second in command Dr. Baburam Bhattarai is standing for the CA elections. She is not registered to vote at Na Gaun but when she heard Prachanda was coming in the neighborhood, while she was filling a bucket in a public tap, she hurriedly filled that and rushed to the venue. “I came to see Prachanda,” she said. “I was filling my bucket in the tap. Someone screamed Prachanda is coming. Then I ran toward here.”
28-year-old Manju Poudel is originally from Gorkha where, among others, Maoist second in command Dr. Baburam Bhattarai is standing for the CA elections. She is not registered to vote at Na Gaun but when she heard Prachanda was coming in the neighborhood while she was filling a bucket in a public tap she hurriedly filled that and rushed to the venue. “I came to see Prachanda,” she said. “I was filling my bucket in the tap. Someone screamed Prachanda is coming. Then I ran toward here.”
The lady was carrying her five year old son and her husband was standing next to her as she talked to me:
“I am very much curious to see him. I heard a lot about him before. Many people talk about him. When I saw him a while ago, I found him just like we normal people.”
“I think he will win,” she said. “I can’t vote from here. I have to go to my home. I think I will go to home for the election and also meet my relatives there. This is the first time we are having this type of election in Nepal.”
Prachanda came at the venue and went inside a home on the other end of the courtyard to take some rest. He also ate. According to a PLA soldier who was eating beaten rice and meat, Prachanda also ate the same. While the leader was inside, a curious crowd was instantly formed outside the building and they talked about the leader.
“I have seen him on TV,” one of them, Sarita Maharjan, 42, a housewife, said. She added: “I want to see him and listen to him speech today. I am curious to know what he has to say.”
Sanjb Maharjan, 33, works at a hotel in Kathmandu. He is from the same neighborhood and was waiting for Prachanda to speak. “In this election we should select the good person rather than sticking to a certain party and voting by the party line,” he told me. “Nepal is stepping towards 21st century and we need to elect one who leads us in that direction effectively. In previous elections, we used to vote on party line, but this is a different election.”
“I am neutral as of now,” Sanjib continued. “I feel Maoists are to be credited for bringing the country this far. They have given the impression that they have vision. Other parties lack that.”
What about all the bloodshed that we saw in the past decade? Aren’t Maoist responsible for all that?
“If you want to change, you have to go through some suffering. If you are cleaning a toilet, you will have to go through the bad smell. We also wanted to have change and we went through difficult times.”
Now the program was about to begin. The emcee introduced Prachanda:
“Let us welcome the first future president of a republic Nepal and the leader who can pose a direct challenge the imperialist America. Comrade Prachanda is among us; let’s welcome him with a huge round of applause.”
Male and female participants were in equal number and many of them were seated cross-legged on the mat while others stood at the back.
Clad in a light blue tracksuit was Raju, one of the 25 YCL members, who were maintaining order at the meeting. PLA soldiers tried to control the eager participants who were struggling to go near to Prachanda. Prachanda’s wife Sita was seated right next to the leader on the dais. Some people were continuously taking photos of Prachanda from their cell phones. A poet from the neighborhood recited a poem that was dedicated to the leader and talked about him achievements so far.
As one of the Maoist leaders from the area was speaking in Newari, a woman commented: Prachanda can’t speak Newari, how can he communicate with the people here?
“I have seen him on TV,” Sarita Maharjan (up and below), 42, a housewife, said. She added, “I want to see him and listen to him speech today. I am curious to know what he has to say.”
Sanjb Maharjan, 33, (right) works at a hotel in Kathmandu. He is from Na Gaun neighborhood if Kirtipur and was waiting for Prachanda to speak. “I am neutral as of now. I feel Maoists are to be credited for bringing the country this far. They have given the impression that they have vision. Other parties lack that.”
Prachanda addressed a small town-hall meeting kind of gathering on Monday (10 March) evening in a neighborhood called Nah Gaun in Kirtipur (his constituency). Most of the participants in the gathering were housewives and men who had returned to their home from their day job in the city. Many of the participants were seated on the sukul, a mat made up of hay.
Prachanda, in Nepali, said: “We have seen many elections since 1950. Many parties won and many lost. Many leaders won and many lost. But people of Nepal never won. None of those elections made people of Nepal victorious. The people and the nation should have won.”
“People are still fighting against feudalism. They are not victorious as yet in a real sense.
“Those who talked about CA, republic were branded terrorist until a couple of years ago and were ordered to be killed. And those who ordered for the killing are now suddenly talking about the CA and republic as if these words belonged to them. Now these very people who ordered the people who talked about CA and republic to be killed are now claiming that they brought the issue of CA and republic. They are behaving as if Maoists came out of nowhere.”
There was a huge round of clapping as soon as Prachanda said that. “Right,” a woman commented to Prachanda’s statement. “That was a good dialogue,” a girl standing next to me commented and the woman nodded.
“Those who tried to abort CA,” Prachanda continued, “are trying to loot the CA from people. The CA has come after the sacrifice of the sons and daughters of Nepali people. Only the mother can raise her child. Our party is the mother of the CA and only we can take care of CA properly.”
“I am not feeling like the election is here. For me the election hasn’t come. This is the continuity of our battle. I am not feeling like asking votes, but am worried about loosing this battle.
“I am not standing here as an individual. Martyrs are standing here and I am representing them. I am standing on behalf of them to warn the people.
“This is an uncompleted movement and we must complete it on the side of the people via CA.
“This is the time for parties to get united. Unity is the necessity of the day. All patriots, nationalists, and those who favor change must come together. This is not a usual parliamentary election that comes every five years. This is a historical opportunity. This is a great movement to make a New Nepal. Yesterday we tried to find UML leaders for four hours as it was the last day to form an alliance. But the senior leaders of the UML were not available. They had different excuses. The UML leaders say they don’t want us to win in Kathmandu. The Americans also don’t want to see us here in Nepal. What’s different between the UML and the Americans who bomb daily in Iraq and Afghanistan and kill innocent people? I think UML leaders are under the pressure of America and Delhi not to form an alliance with us. If you are functioning under the signals of foreigners, there will be a huge accident in the country.
“We are confident that we can raise the income of Nepali people up to 3 thousands dollars in ten years. We have to expand rail line from Lahsa to Kathmandu and Pokhara and Lumbini and we have to expand rail network in Madhes (Terai). We did the magic in 10 years, the political magic. That is why the country is at the doorstep of the CA. Our party can do another magic, economic magic. This historical opportunity must be organized in our party’s favor to make that magic happen. You have seen what we did in the past.”
After the Prachanda speech was over, I asked Manju Poudel, the lady with her child, about her impression. “He talked about building a new Nepal,” she said. “I don’t know if that is possible. We will have to see that.”
Do you think they will go back to jungle if they loose election?
“No, I don’t think they will go back to jungle.”
What do you want from this election?
“All kinds of facilities and employment. We are all unemployed.”