Nepalis angry at Maoists' taste for luxury ahead of national elections

Nepal's ruling party under fire for its leader's lavish lifestyle ahead of elections

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 10:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 November, 2013, 3:17pm


When Nepal ousted the monarchy and voted in a Maoist-led government in 2008, few anticipated that, five years on, the former guerillas would come under fire for living like kings.

Commentators and former rebels say the party's leadership has swapped its revolutionary ideals for corruption-fuelled luxury, with the strongest criticism reserved for chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known by the nom de guerre Prachanda.

The Maoists came to power promising social change, economic growth and lasting peace for a country devastated by a decade-long civil war. Since then, Nepal has seen several coalition governments come and go, with none able to agree on a constitution to finalise the peace process.

Meanwhile, the Maoists have witnessed a mutiny, with a splinter group threatening to disrupt next week's national elections. Despite the complaints about the party, the Maoists are confident of winning an outright majority which could see Prachanda back in power.

Former guerilla Bishnu Pariyar took up arms aged 14. By the time he was 22, he had survived gunshot wounds to become one of Prachanda's personal aides.

"The rich used to treat us like dogs and I thought our war would liberate the poor," Pariyar said.

Soon after he began working for the Maoist chief, he noticed Prachanda's taste for luxury brands and imported whisky, a fondness that has not escaped the attentions of local media.

"That family just loves to spend, whether it's Prachanda blowing money on hair gel or Rolex watches, his wife buying saris all the time or his son Prakash, obsessed with changing his mobile phone every two weeks," Pariyar said.

Prachanda's lifestyle first attracted criticism when news emerged in January last year that he had rented a 15-room mansion in Kathmandu, a property he still occupies despite promises to vacate it. The estate - its gate decorated with Hindu religious motifs - includes parking space for more than a dozen vehicles, a building to house 70 guards and a table tennis room.

In April last year, clashes broke out in a UN-monitored camp for former Maoist soldiers when troops accused the party of stealing funds owed to them. By the end of the year, simmering discontent saw a former chef, Padam Kunwar, turn into a hero when he slapped Prachanda in the face at a public function.

He was beaten up by furious Prachanda followers and arrested, but many Nepalis rallied behind him, launching Facebook fan pages and tweeting their support.

Nearly a year later, Kunwar will challenge his nemesis once more, this time at the ballot box in Prachanda's Kathmandu constituency.