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Page last updated at 15:35 GMT, Friday, 15 August 2008 16:35 UK

Reclusive past of Nepal's new PM

Prachanda
Prachanda has gone from secretive leader to high profile politician

The new prime minister of Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, 54, is better known under his nom-de-guerre of Prachanda (Fierce One).

The former agriculture student, born in the Annapurna region of Nepal, is the undisputed leader of the Maoists and during their bloody 10-year war against the monarchy was the supreme commander of their army.

Now the guerrilla-turned-constitutional politician has reached the highest office in his country.

All this is a far cry from just over a decade ago, when the Maoists were a poorly armed rag-tag rebel group which few believed posed a serious challenge to Nepal's constitutional monarchy.

More than 13,000 people died in the civil war in the impoverished Himalayan nation which culminated in the king relinquishing his absolute powers and being forced to give up his throne in June 2008.

Until recently, very little was known about Prachanda. Nepalis knew him from only a couple of photographs.

The former rebel leader has three daughters and a son, who all support the Maoist movement. His wife, whom he met through the party, is also a Maoist official.

'School-teacher'

In the past, Nepali journalists would from time to time interview Prachanda's widowed father, who himself had not seen his son for years.

The rebel leader was rarely seen in public and is believed to have frequently slipped between India and Nepal over the long, porous border.

Maoists supporters in Kathmandu
Nepal's Maoists derive their inspiration from Peru's Shining Path rebels

During his first ever television interview to the BBC in January 2006, Prachanda looked more like the school teacher he once was - moustached, bespectacled and with a slight paunch.

The BBC's Charles Haviland, who conducted the interview, said he came across as surprisingly mild-mannered and shy - more humorous than intimidating and without the charisma of some revolutionary leaders.

All this stands in sharp contrast to the perception of him as a ruthless leader during the Maoist rebellion who was responsible for executions and terrorising swathes of Nepal's population.

His number two, Baburam Bhattarai, with a cloth cap and eagle eyes, and often seen alongside Prachanda, fits much more easily with the traditional view of what revolutionaries should look like.

But few have doubted that beneath Prachanda's mild-manner there lies a tough interior.

Evidence of that was clearly seen in his success as a guerrilla commander - for the last decade he has been undisputed leader - and his uncompromising stand against the monarchy.

Puritanical

The Maoists participated in the country's first parliamentary elections in 1991 but their disenchantment with political squabbling and anger at the plight of the rural poor prompted them to take up arms.

Former King Gyanendra
Prachanda was determined to abolish the monarchy

Their performance then was in contrast to April 2008, when they emerged as by far the biggest party in elections to a new constituent assembly.

Prachanda derived his inspiration from Peru's Shining Path rebels and dreamt of setting up a communist republic.

He envisaged the erosion of class, caste and gender barriers.

But he has also been described as puritanical, outlawing alcohol, gambling and "vulgar literature" from India and the United States.

But as talks with the government progressed - following a peace deal in 2006 that brought an end to the king's direct rule - signs emerged that he was willing to compromise.

The Maoist leader reassured doubters that he was willing to take part in democratic elections and would accept the results of the vote.

After his party emerged as winner, one of his first moves was to reassure foreign investors and privately-run businesses that he would not eradicate the private sector.

Now that he is in government, Prachanda has much work to do. The long insurgency has worsened chronic poverty in Nepal which, like other countries in the region, is suffering from rising food prices and high unemployment.




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