Before the people of Nepal pushed him into the office of prime minister last April, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai was an aging ex-jailbird living on the charity of his nephew in a small apartment in Katmandu.
Bhattarai, 66, now sleeps in a guarded mansion and is chauffeured to his office each day where he steps over the hide of a Bengal tiger to reach his massive hand-carved desk.
As the new prime minister of this Himalayan nation, Bhattarai is paid 6,119 rupees a month, about $244. He gives 6,000 to his nephew and keeps the change, about $5. "I am a frugal man," he says, and smiles.
He is also revered throughout Nepal as a man with an unbreakable spirit -- the people's champion and an opposition leader for more than 30 years. Two kings have tried to silence him by jailing him for 15 years without ever charging him with a crime. What pulled Bhattarai through? "My obsession with the freedom of man," he said.
Our associate Jim Lynch traveled to Nepal recently and met with Bhattarai. The new prime minister chuckled about the twist of fate that put him in power. Nepal's King Birendra was forced by growing opposition among his people in April to fire his appointed prime minister and let opposition leaders form an interim government and appoint their own prime minister, Bhattarai. The king is now promising multiparty elections within a year. Nepal has not had an election in 31 years.
Bhattarai looks like he has reached the stage in his life where he would rather bounce a grandchild on his knee. Instead, he is working 15-hour days trying to pull an impoverished nation from the grasp of a monarch.
He carries the burden of his people's expectations and their belief that he is a miracle worker.
Nepal is wedged between two giants with bad tempers -- China and India. It is one of the poorest nations in the world and one torn by political factions, including a rising Communist Party. Despite the challenges, Bhattarai does not look worried. He has a serene easy smile.
He explained the history of the democratic movement in Nepal and drew a parallel with the growing awareness of human rights, which he maintains was fostered by the United States. He credits the Voice of America, the U.S. government's radio broadcast, for inspiring the April uprising in Nepal forcing the king to recognize the opposition. When Bhattarai took the job, he told the king bluntly that he would be loyal to the people, not the crown.
Soon after he took office, Bhattarai had dinner with the new U.S. ambassador to Nepal, Julia Chang Bloch. They formed a mutual admiration society. Bloch likens Bhattarai to Mahatma Gandhi. "How many men are there like him left in the world?" she asked.
Bhattarai is a gifted orator with a lot to say, and his stage has finally arrived. He will speak before the U.N. General Assembly this fall, and he can't contain his smile at the thought of addressing leaders of the world.
Asked whom he thinks are the great world leaders today, Bhattarai grinned and said, "I think many of the world's great leaders are still unknown."