NEW DELHI: Battling for the removal of the controversial army chief, Gen Rookmangud Katawal, and his defender, President Ram Baran Yadav, Nepal's
Maoist party walked into an ambush when an embarrassing video tape showed Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda boasting his guerrilla troops' number had been five-fold inflated during a UN count.
In the same video, aired by Nepal's gleeful public television stations on Tuesday night, he was also shown as making scathing remarks about "reactionary" India and the US, saying that if they scented the constituent assembly election would lead to a Maoist victory, they would never allow it to be held.
But on Wednesday, after the footage created a public outcry, the former revolutionary was forced to try pour oil over troubled waters, acknowledging India's contribution to Nepal's peace process and saying his taped claim about the strength of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) had been taken "mechanically".
On the tape, Prachanda had said that though the PLA numbered only between 7-8,000 combatants, its strength was given as 35,000 during a UN verification so that even after some members being disqualified, their final headcount remained over 19,000.
He also said the decision to sign the peace pact and take part in the election was part of the "revolutionary counter-attack strategy" to capture power. The money that the Maoists had forced the government to disburse as salary to the PLA fighters would partly be used to continue buying arms and prepare for a new battle, he had indicated.
As the opposition Nepali Congress party on Wednesday flayed him for the remarks and the communists asked for a clarification, Prachanda called a press conference to say that the tape was made one and a half years ago and was no longer relevant.
"I have made innumerable such speeches and given such training in the past," he said. "We were once a revolutionary party with a price on our heads. Also, at that time we feared there was a conspiracy to derail the election. Things have changed since then. Airing the tape now is a ploy to divert attention from the president's unconstitutional step."
The PLA, he claimed, actually had over 100,000 fighters. "I was only talking about the regular central army," he said. "In addition, we also have the regular regional army and the Maoist militia. Together, they number over 100,000."
He also said that he had not mentioned India by name when he had talked about foreign intervention while announcing his resignation.
"We are in favour of having good relations with our neighbours," Prachanda said. "The 12-point agreement (between the Maoists and the major Nepal parties) was signed in New Delhi and India took the initiative. India also helped to hold the constituent assembly election."
But during the battle to sack the army chief and his subsequent reinstatement by the president, there were fears that India's support had waned, Prachanda said. However, he indicated that he had taken note of the statement in New Delhi by Indian minister of state for external affairs Anand Sharma that India has not interfered and has no intention of interfering in Nepal's internal affairs.
"We hope our ties with India would improve and progress in future," Prachanda said.
It seems more and more likely that the "leak" must have been by some "Kaccha" agency.
Notice how the leak caused Prachanda to go completely onto the backfoot and be on the defensive.