Kathmandu: After a poor showing in the Constituent Assembly elections, Nepal`s once powerful Maoist leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, is under pressure to give up his leadership.
Holding him responsible for the results, several party leaders, including second-in-command and former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai, have sought his exit as chairman of the Unified Communist Party Nepal-Maoist.
He has been urged to hand over the baton to a new generation.
The call for his resignation ignited a heated debate at the ongoing central committee meeting of the party, two months after the Constituent Assembly results relegated the Maoists to the third spot.
The two top slots were taken by the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML.
Prachanda became an iconic figure after leading a Maoist insurgency from 1996 that claimed thousands of lives but toppled the monarchy in Nepal.
Later, the Maoists emerged as the largest party in the 2008 national election.
Prachanda has admitted that he made several mistakes in the past and could not deliver on the promises made to the people.
He has offered several apologies in the political document tabled at the party meet.
But Bhattarai, who has been Prachanda`s deputy, criticized him for becoming a Stalin by centralizing all power and organizational resources in his hands.
In Communist parlance, Stalinism is identified with personality cult and autocratic functioning.
Bhattarai said the leadership, mainly Dahal, should improve its working style so as to rebuild the Maoist party.
"If the leadership fails to transform, the party will not be different from the CPN-UML which is giving up Communist ideals and is converting itself into a democratic socialist party."
The breakaway faction of the Maoist party, known as the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, has embraced radical Left positions, making things difficult for Prachanda and his men.
Bhattarai, considered an ideologue, has received rousing support at the ongoing party meet.
After Maoists came to power in 2008, some of its leaders were attacked for their lavish lifestyle.
The humiliating defeat in the November Constituent Assembly polls were seen as the last straw.
"There should be a collective leadership," Bhattari said. He said that at present the party appeared to be confused on major issues.
"I had advised chairman Prachanda that a party leader should hold the post for only two terms," he said.
This, he lamented, was not accepted.
Prachanda did not respond to the criticism while addressing the media at Biratnagar Sunday but made it clear that there was no possibility of a change of guard -- at this moment.
"At a time when we are in a difficult position and need a unified party, we should not talk about replacing the leadership.
"Instead, we should make it more strong. If we raise the issue of replacing the party leadership, I am sure the party will sink."
And in a bid to deflect the blows directed at him, Prachanda said that in a Communist party, the leadership alone can`t be faulted for its ills.
"Everyone should be held responsible for the (November) defeat," he said.