KATHMANDU, Nov 25 (IANS) - A war cry against neighbour India has landed Nepal's Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal or Prachanda under fire, both from the ruling parties as well as his own followers.
Struggling to retain his grip on leadership, former revolutionary Prachanda's India bashing at the ongoing key meeting of the party was dismissed by the main ruling parties, who called it a case of sour grapes.
Former finance minister Prakash Chandra Lohani, whose Rastriya Janashakti Party is an ally of caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, said Prachanda's effort to brand India as the "arch enemy" stemmed from the former guerrillas' chagrin at being unable to return to power through the prime ministerial election, which they had to quit following a vote-buying scandal.
The Nepali Congress, the largest party in the ruling alliance, said it was a bid to stoke a cold war between New Delhi and Kathmandu.
Arjun Narsingh KC, spokesman of the party, counter-charged the Maoists with violating the peace accord they had signed four years ago by making their guerrilla fighters, whom they were to have discharged in 2006, take part in the ongoing sixth plenum of the party that will decide its future strategy.
Former tourism minister Pradeep Gyawali, who belongs to the prime minister's Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, said Prachanda was trying to whip up anti-India sentiments to use it as a bargaining tool to be able to return to power.
Gyawali also predicted that the Maoist plenum would not endorse Prachanda's call to prepare for a revolt and a subsequent armed war with India.
While the ruling parties' reaction was expected, Prachanda came under a volley of criticism from his own party members gathered in Palungtar village in faraway Gorkha district.
The most vocal criticism came from a Maoist lawmaker from the farwest, Leela Bhandari, who said Prachanda had met the Indian ambassador to Nepal, Rakesh Sood, 71 times in nine months in violation of diplomatic protocol.
Prachanda, who has remained the supremo of the Maoist party from its inception to a 10-year insurrection and subsequent return to overground politics in 2006, now faces a battle over leadership with his two deputies challenging his ability and integrity.
The contenders, former Maoist finance minister Baburam Bhattarai and former lawmaker Mohan Baidya Kiran, defied Prachanda at the plenum by presenting separate political documents and attacking him for financial irregularities and virtual dictatorship.
Though Maoist spokesman Dinanath Sharma said the party would remain united despite the differences, there is growing speculation that Nepal's largest party is headed for a three-way split.
Kiran, the most militant among the three leaders who has advocated joining India's Maoists to fight the Indian government, has warned of a revolt against his own party if Prachanda did not rectify his errors.
The turmoil within the Maoist party is also feared to hit Nepal's floundering peace process.
With less than two months left for the discharge and rehabilitation of the Maoist army with its nearly 20,000 guerrilla fighters, the party is now trying to hold on to the combatants.
The ruling parties have retaliated by saying they would not allow the new Constitution, the baby of the Maoists, to be promulgated until the Maoist army was discharged.
If the new Constitution is not enforced by mid-May 2011, Nepal will be plunged into a deep constitutional crisis with the peace process losing credibility.