Nepali Times
Here And There
Maoist road show


You'd think by now that New York had seen it all, but nothing like the Nepali Maoist road show in the Big Apple.

During the war, Comrade Prachanda never stinted on stinging anti-American rhetoric. But at the UN and on the lecture circuit in Manhattan, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was centrist sweetness personified.

This week, Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai also came across as a serious proponent of free market capitalism in Washington DC. Ironically, he and his boss were at the heart of the capitalist beast during its worst financial meltdown in modern times.

Whether PM Dahal spared the time to tour the Asia Society's excellent exhibit of Mao Zedong memorabilia (paintings, icons, posters and lapel pins) isn't known, but wonder what he'd have made of the Mao chic.

Where the Prime Minister really shone was before a mixed crowd at the New School in Greenwich Village. This was his first opportunity to be a man of the people on American soil. America's tiny left was seething with enthusiasm. Some youngsters with red stars in their eyes were handing out leaflets in praise of Comrade Dahal and wanted to give him a noisy welcome when his limo pulled up. UN Diplomatic Security thought not, and asked the local lefties to move to a safe distance.

Inside, there were skeptical young Nepali-Americans and a couple of pot-bellied, pony-tailed white old communist men who said they'd come to see what success on the left actually looked like.

To wild cheers, the PM spoke first in English, then Nepali, visibly more comfortable in the latter. Mantras about change and ending feudalism were rolled out, and promises to be good to private investors in hydro, tourism and infrastructure. It was a pretty impressive speech. "Is he really a Maoist?" one American communist muttered. Then came the questions, and here Dahal was nimble, humorous and fairly open about his life, ideology and policy intentions for Nepal. Nepalis tended to ask about down-to-earth matters like the YCL. ("They'll be tamed, along with other parties' youth wings and merged into a development force.") Land reform? ("The priority is modern, effective agriculture and feeding the people.")

The future of Maoism? ("Time for Prachanda Path which emphasized multi-party competition, freedom of the press and inclusion.") And Marxism-Leninsm-Maoism? ("We are not going to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat.") This provoked hisses of dismay among hitherto hopeful US lefties. Nepalis however perked up and looked pleased.
Chewing a wad of bubble gum and brushing greasy hair from his eyes, one questioner wanted to know as "one Maoist to another" if certain key principles weren't being abandoned here.

Not at all, said Nepal's Comrade-in-Chief, warning that no one gained from "rigid, doctrinaire and sectarian" thinking, and wowing the local left with his assertion that had Lenin lived another decade or so, he too would have allowed bourgeois reform. More hisses, visible disappointment setting in.

It was the turn of the less-than-left next. A young American man with short hair and a suspicious resemblance to a Mormon missionary wondered if the Nepali Maoists weren't wrong to pay too much attention to history and to the ideas of "dead foreign leaders in the modern world"? Dahal smiled and asked if the US was ready to forget George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and their role in the American nation.

Summing up, the moderator Kul Chandra Gautam offered advice to the new Nepali leader that combined respect for his election victory with the sharp edge of years of experience on the world stage as a UN official. Reminding the PM that he had changed his name more than once in his life, Gautam made his point with a warm smile.

"It suited you being Prachanda, the fierce one, when you were fighting. But now please, as Prime Minister, be like Pushpa Kamal, lotus flower, to the people of Nepal."

A laughing PK seemed to agree, but who could tell what the fierce one was thinking?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)