Time South Asia bureau chief Alex Perry interviewed CPN(M) chairman Prachanda:

Where does your revolution stand at the moment?
  Prachanda: The great People's War has entered its last stage. When our party initiated the People's War in 1996, we had not a single modern weapon nor any trained armed groups, only an ideological, political and military line and a   plan. In the plan, we defined three strategic stages: strategic defensive, strategic equilibrium and strategic offensive. We have a strong People's Liberation Army,   we have liberated vast rural bases and are fast growing our political power in the rural areas of the country. We have confidence in the masses and in ultimate   victory, although we cannot predict an exact time frame. We have already pushed  the RNA [Royal Nepalese Army] into defensive positions and confined them to the capital, district headquarters and their barracks. Our strategy for this last stage will be to fuse urban insurrection to protracted People's War.

Do you think King Gyanendra made a tactical blunder in seizing power? Do you think he was at least right that the political parties had failed   the people?
  Prachanda: Right now, there is great political turmoil in Nepal. The remnant of medieval feudal autocracy, the infamous fratricidal and regicidal King Gyanendra, is desperately resorting to a last reign of terror [to suppress] the democratic   aspirations of the Nepalese people. I don't think the king was right because time and again [it has been] proved that it is the king's conspiracy to establish a feudal military dictatorship. [On the other hand], our party has every right to blame the parliamentary parties for their conciliatory approach to feudal autocracy. We represent the revolutionary alternative. We [are] leading the   anti-feudal, anti-imperialist democratic struggle, trying our best to crush   feudal autocracy. It's feudal autocracy versus people's democracy. And we believe   the masses are the real makers of history [and] will never surrender to this   kind of feudal autocracy.

More people are going to die in this accelerated conflict, no?
  Prachanda: The RNA will try to unleash a new reign of terror and violence against the masses, and will massacre the unarmed and innocent. Already RNA helicopters have started to bomb houses and unarmed people. But they will never be able to crush the growing resistance of the masses or the devastating blows of the People's Liberation Army, [which has] a plan to protect the masses through a series of attacks on the RNA's strategic points. In war, it is inevitable some people will die. We will try our best to minimize the people's sacrifice.

Human rights groups accuse you and the RNA of brutality,  torture and murder. What's your answer to such allegations, and your widely reported use of child soldiers?
  Prachanda: We are fighting for the liberation of the masses, whereas the RNA is fighting against the masses. They cannot be compared. Thousands of disappearances, thousands of houses burned and looted, thousands of rapes, thousands of [cases of] torture and killing of the people: these are the open secrets of the RNA. At the same time, the PLA has captured hundreds and hundreds of RNA and police personnel, treated them humanely, respected them as prisoners of war and freed them. And we are very serious about the number of Nepalese people who have fled their home villages, even the country. We regularly appeal to people to return home and say we will take care of their security, and an increasing number of people who fled are returning.

Because we are at war, I can't rule out mistakes, but whenever we see them, we try to correct them. I want to appeal to democratic institutions and people all over the world not to be confused by the yellow propaganda of the RNA. The propaganda concerning the use of children in the People's Army is curious. We strictly do not allow those below the age of 18 to join. But one thing [that   confuses] commentators is the thousands of orphans of our martyrs. Our party naturally undertakes the responsibility to feed, educate and train them so as   to be good successors to their parents. We never use them in fighting, but we   educate and discipline them as a children's organization. When we are taking   care of poor children, how can one draw parallels with things like the Khmer   Rouge?

To outsiders, the war in Nepal, between King and Communist army, seems like it belongs to an earlier time. Is Nepal still fighting the battles of the last century?
  Prachanda: This is a very interesting question. First, our party neither represents dogmatism nor revisionism. We are trying to defend, apply and develop our [communist] science to the national and international situation. We are different to how outsiders imagine us: remaining firm in our ideological orientation, but very flexible. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is a unified science of social revolution of the proletariat, developed through the earth-shaking struggle of the masses. Being a science it deserves continuous and consistent development. The "Prachanda Path" is the application of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to the condition of Nepal, and its enrichment also. Our People's War is a totally new 21st century war. Our party is not only fighting autocratic monarchy-so many countries have already finished this task over the last centuries-but also the evil of the imperialist world, the hypocrisy of so-called democracy that a superpower like the U.S. represents. Everybody knows that these so-called democratic countries don't support the democratic demands of the Nepalese people, but rather this hated feudal autocratic monarchy with huge military assistance.

Do you truly believe your revolution will spread across the world?
  Prachanda: The imperialist world order makes a handful of rich richer and the vast majority inhumanly poorer. Developing sharp differences between the haves and the have-nots generates the basis for world revolution. Anybody can observe the growing global unrest at this world order. We deeply believe that what we are starting in Nepal is part of a worldwide 21st century revolution.

How important is party discipline and loyalty? Is there a danger of totalitarianism, or a cult of personality around you?
  Prachanda: Our party seriously analyzes the lessons of history, particularly from the great revolutions and counterrevolutions of the 20th century. After thorough debate, we have put forward a new historic proposal called "the development of democracy in the 21st century" [which] guarantees the new state will be under the observation, control and hegemony of the general masses. There will be free competition among political parties, [provided they] oppose feudalism and imperialism and work for the service of the masses. We also propose the party should [divide]: one section will work among the masses and the other will handle the state work. After some time this division will rotate to check the party and state from the danger of bureaucratic capitalism and totalitarianism. Anyway, the main thing is we are trying to build a new type of party that continuously revolutionizes itself through constant ideological and class struggle. Beyond the necessity of centralizing leadership, there is no question of any cult of personality. We are trying our best to develop a system of collective leadership and a flow of successors.

Do you have support overseas?
  Prachanda: The international community should understand the feudal autocratic nature of the King and the democratic nature of the Maoists. China's current ruling class dreams of being the new superpower, which goes directly against the path charted by Mao Zedong. China fears the return of Mao in Nepal. But there are other forces who directly or indirectly support our proposal for U.N.   or international mediation, and we have so many friends and institutions with whom we have regular contact, but for technical reasons, I am unable to disclose who they are.

How did you become what you are? What inspired you?
  Prachanda: By class, I am from a poor peasant family. My parents left their home village in the mountains and settled in Chitwan, and once there our family upgraded itself to a middle-class peasant family. But from my very childhood I knew the meaning of poverty and inhuman exploitation. And because Chitwan was a newly settled district, where people from all over the country gathered,   [I had] a chance to [meet] people of different classes, castes and cultural backgrounds. In high school, I came across communist ideology, then I was involved in student politics, and by the time I graduated, I was already communist. Thereafter I took part in all kinds of small and big struggles, and that led me to the situation where I am today. My vision of a perfect Nepal is a democratic new   Nepal, free from the exploitation of feudalism, working for economic and cultural   prosperity. Similarly a perfect world is free of imperialism and exploitation of men by men, in which humanity marches together towards infinite prosperity.  

Do you ever have doubts about what you're doing? Do you ever think what a different life might have been like?
  Prachanda: This war helped me to understand the enormous energy and the depth of feeling that the masses carry in their souls. I am proud of this understanding. I have never dreamt and will never dream of a life dissociated from the masses. No! I never have doubts about dedicating oneself to the noble cause of liberating the masses. I never worry about personal success or failure, but I have absolute   confidence in the victory of the masses. I have no time, nor interests outside the party, the campaign and the masses. To sacrifice myself to change the world for the betterment of humanity, [to fight] against the evil system of exploitation of men by men, this is my first and last dream.

Why do you remain so hidden?
  Prachanda: Due to some serious technical difficulties, I couldn't meet you face to face. I hope in the near future I will. But I am not so hidden from my people. I am open and in constant interaction with them. [Otherwise] how could I do my job in this life and death struggle?