On 'Prachanda's path' to a people's Nepal
South China Morning Post columnist Laurence Brahm was this month invited to advise Nepal's Maoists on economic policy, in the process gaining rare access to the rebel leader Prachanda. In the first of three articles, Brahm describes a vision of a man on
Rebel leader outlines his vision of a country taking the best of Maoist philosophy to bring prosperity to everyone
Guerilla guards stand anxiously on the balcony and stairway of the nondescript safe house somewhere in the slums of Kathmandu.
When Pushpa Kamal Dahal - better known as Prachanda - enters the dimly lit room, it is with the confidence of a revolutionary at the cusp of assuming political power, tinged with the warm ebullience of a fatherly philosopher.
'Nepal is rich in resources but lacking in political vision,' declares the chairman and supreme commander of Nepal's Maoists. 'Our people are poor so we want to use the resources to build a new Nepal for them.'
While the Maoists have been fighting for a decade, Prachanda was organising and planning the movement at least 30 years ago. Recognising how conditions in Nepal paralleled those of China in the 1920s and '30s - a feudal system of royalists, landlords and a serfdom, with uneven distribution of resources and foreign control over certain aspects of the economy - he saw in Nepal's rural mountain villages and urban slums a fertile nesting ground for socialist aspirations.
Prachanda saw a chance for Maoist ideals and organisational techniques to unite Nepal's rural-based and largely poverty-stricken multi-ethnic society into a single movement and united political force.
But he is as much a pragmatist as idealist. 'Mao tried his best [to build a new society] against many trends and complexities in his society. Mao tried to undertake a big experiment. We must learn from what happened and draw as a conclusion that a multiparty democracy is necessary,' he said.
The payoff for flexibility is a place in a new government, although it remains unclear exactly what that role would be. Already the Maoists have secured roles in Nepal's interim parliament, established in the wake of November's landmark peace deal.
Prachanda said his supporters were sincere in their desire to be accepted as a legitimate political party.
'We wish to take part in the interim government and constitutional assembly to develop an entirely new government,' he said.
Even Mao had agreed to a wartime coalition government with the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek to fight the Japanese, he noted.
Seeking to emphasise his commitment to a multiparty system, Prachanda said he supported 'clear and open competition between concrete candidates'.
'We feel multiparty competition is necessary to develop within this new situation. Moreover, democracy is necessary to build both a new and vibrant society.'
Another point that distinguishes Nepal's Maoists is that they are not against religion, per se, only adverse influences of superstition and any attempt to use religion as a means to state power.
'We are trying to revive Buddha and portray him as a hero of Nepal and focus attention on social harmony and the higher values of mankind,' Prachanda said.
In this regard, he is keenly interested in President Hu Jintao's current efforts to forge a new national ideology of 'social harmony' around Buddhist philosophical tenets.
He also admires China's economic achievements, while keeping a wary eye on its current social problems, including a struggling health system and increasing gaps between rich and poor.
'The economic policy of China has great success,' he noted. 'But the current line has also led to corruption and social poverty.'
He said it was the Maoists' intention to modernise Nepal by breaking its old feudal social and economic structure - without necessarily removing the monarchy heritage symbol as a pre-condition.
On the other hand, 'feudalism can do away with the monarchy without changing the social structure', observed Kiran Baburam Bhattarai, who is ranked alongside Prachanda in the Maoists' 33-member central committee.
'For instance, India is an example of feudal capitalism, while China is a different form of capitalism altogether, a mixed economy, which did succeed in doing away with feudalism.'
Many observers claim past International Monetary Fund and World Bank policies created conditions of cyclical poverty giving rise to Nepal's Maoist movement.
Senior Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai claimed projects funded by USAid 'distorted development' and 'this fuelled conditions for revolution in the countryside'.
As for any future role for the IMF and World Bank, Prachanda said he did not want to follow them blindly.
He said that while China went from socialism to capitalism, 'we want to go from capitalism to socialism'. 'For both, it is a matter of finding an economic middle way. We call it the 'Prachanda path'.'
He envisions Nepal as offering a realistic chance to come up with a new development model.
'We are not going to blindly follow one uniform prescription,' he said. 'We want a mixed economy combining socialism and market. Globalisation and capitalism we cannot ignore. We can use market economics combined with socialism. This combination is necessary. We cannot copy any single method of either old socialism or old capitalism. We need a new model.'
It is tempting to view the rise of Nepal's Maoists as anachronistic. Yet Prachanda is aware of the need to embrace modernity, while still retaining his enthusiasm for the Great Helmsman's achievements.
'Mao was great because he unified his country. But we want to develop Maoism with a new label.
'We share his original vision of the need to change society for the better, but in the 21st century, we must do so by being integrated with the entire world.
'We are trying to undertake a new experiment in political construction, to reorganise Nepal's state system through parliamentary process. We want a mixed economy. We wish to build a new Nepal.'