His deft handling of the ever simmering discontent within his party, his subtle engagement with audiences in New York, his openness in negotiating with the mushrooming ethnic movements, and his persistent transactions with the increasingly cantankerous political parties, all this could not be the result of mere Machiavellianism.
At the time of the peace agreement, the Maoists had little hope that people would give them the confidence of the ballot in return for decade-long terror of bullets. The Maoists in India still cling to arms. But Prachanda, like a statesman that he appears to be, gave up the expanding insurgency, and his risks have been rewarded by Nepalis.
While Girija Koirala and Madhab Nepal succeeded in bringing Prachanda and his party to negotiation, it is Dahal who was constantly bringing the Congress, insecure UML and volatile ethnic groups into the fold of democracy in order to realise the dream of a truly multi-ethnic decentralised federal democracy.
There are a million mutinies erupting in Nepal right now as a result of long-suppressed people awakening from centuries of humiliation, deprivation and slumber. And, Dahal has the onerous task of juggling these myriad forces while leading the ship of a mapless state without any training in democratic politics that, say, Nehru had when he became India's prime minister. Neither did 'Prachanda' have colleagues or a party seasoned in democratic exercise when he chose to be 'Dahal'.
The UML and Congress, which pursued individual ambition, bickering and petty feuds for posts that harmed them and Nepal from 1990 to 2002 are showing those signs once again. And given the Maoists' growing success in the elections, their behaviour might get even worse. Otherwise, why would they smell conspiracy with regard to PLA integration if that's what they signed on under the peace agreement?
Why are powerful UML and Congress leaders, instead of offering historically informed analysis of the rise of marginalised voices, blaming the Maoists for stirring up the hornet's nest of ethnic politics? The Congress seems to have run out of ideas, originality and critical thinking.
And the UML, despite its internal election, still more or less clings to the outdated track that Madan Bhandari set almost two decades ago.
The culture of impunity, the undemocratic handling of the army generals' retirement, violence against media houses and journalists, the muscle-flexing of its hardliners and, above all, YCL excesses all show that Dahal and his party have ways to go before being called democrats. But the ganging up by the press and the parties against Dahal, smelling conspiracy in everything the Maoists do and exaggerating the danger to Nepal's democracy due to Maoist political decisions equally show that these parties might be acting out of insecurity and old Nepal's conspiratorial mindset.
One might even suspect that they do not want a new Nepal to be born, as Dahal alleges, if it means rebuilding their parties on radically different platforms from the status quo. And the media should ask itself if its class and group bias is not responsible for the overwhelmingly negative tone toward the Maoists. So, save for a couple of intemperate phrases, which the media overplayed, Dahal's speech appears convincing about the behaviour of his opposition.
Many in Nepal thought that the end of kingship would lead to rule by their party or group along post-1990 line. But now that a paradigm shift appears possible, from traditional power bases, classes and groups to the hitherto disempowered, from established parties to emergent forces, many seem uneasy and threatened. The press must give Dahal credit where credit is due and criticise him where and when he and his party deserve
Pramod Mishra is on research leave from Augustana College, Illinois, USA.