By Maila Baje
The silver jubilee of the eruption of the ‘people’s war’ provided an opportunity for its erstwhile supreme commander to shed some more light on the shadier parts of the saga.
Addressing a special function at Nepal Communist Party headquarters in the capital to commemorate the anniversary, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, among other things, sought to explain how the Nepali Maoists could have perished the way of their Peruvian counterparts had they not chosen to land safely in the peace camp a decade later.
While illustrating the contradictions of the period, Dahal recounted how Nepali Congress titan Girija Prasad Koirala would regularly suggest the Maoists to carry out major attacks against state installations. “We were in regular contact, almost every day,” Dahal told the audience, adding: “To my bewilderment, he used to provoke me to launch military attacks on district headquarters.”
Predictably enough, that remark infuriated the opposition Nepali Congress. How dare Dahal seek to tarnish the reputation of a man who dedicated his life to peace and democracy, party spokesman Bishwa Prakash Sharma roared in an official statement. Nepali Congress leader Shekhar Koirala – who was reputedly clued in on his uncle’s interactions with the Maoist chief – condemned Dahal’s remarks as ‘reckless and deplorable’.
Amid the brouhaha, Baburam Bhattarai – Dahal’s one-time deputy and chief propagandist – said the former Maoist supremo was exaggerating things. Girija Prasad Koirala had only urged the Maoists to escalate attacks against the state to thwart the undemocratic elections the royal regime was pushing through. In other words, destruction for democracy.
So, what’s going on here? Would Dahal speak ill of the dead just for the fun of it? True, the dead can’t be slandered. On the other hand, Dr. Bhattarai’s clarification presupposes some element of truth in Dahal’s assertion. And truth is the best defense when it comes to defamation.
Once again, the ball is in our court. The people need to put things in context against the public record. By his own later admission, Girija Prasad masterminded the hijacking of a Royal Nepal Airlines plane from Biratnagar to Forbesgunj and the looting of Indian Rs. 3 million in state funds in 1973.
The Nepali Congress made attempts on the lives of kings Mahendra and Birendra and continues to honor the executed would-be assassins as martyrs. Dahal – like the rest of us – recognizes that the Maoist ‘people’s warriors’ and the Marxist-Leninist headhunters never quite reached that level of dastardly audacity.
Dahal may not always choose his words carefully. But he does know how to put even bad ones to good effect. Consider his plight today. The one-time Fierce One has become a subject of either ridicule or pity. He celebrates the anniversary of a ‘people’s war’ conducted by a party that no longer exists. He does so as co-chair of a party that feels so uncomfortable that the other co-chair – the sitting prime minister – feels compelled to stay away.
Dahal’s peers within the power structure want to blame him for the ills of a system doddering before our eyes, while erstwhile allies outside accuse him of betraying the revolution. But, as his speech in Gorkha the very next day seemed to suggest, he won’t be the fall guy. They are all in it together – in life and in death.