The King Maker

“ But you surely can not deny him his legitimate right to vote!”,- the party activist exclaimed lifting his voice at its peak in an assumed gesture of utter disgust.

“ He may be poor what he obviously is. He may be illiterate which definitely is not his fault but a slur on the face of the largest democracy we boast of after so many years of freedom! But I assure you, this will not persist long once we got to power at the Centre.
But you can never blame him for these and drive him out in this manner depriving him of his scope to franchise”.

The man stopped at last, visibly content that he could make use of a portion of his ready at hand speech for the field meetings thus unfalteringly and had been able to give a bit of a show down to the timid looking, meek poll personnel in-charge of the polling station.

Scared or not the Presiding Officer looked distinctly puzzled at what could have prompted the party spokesman to be so much concerned about the going state of affairs of the Nation and the extent of accountability of a petty official like him for that. He was a peanut, just one among the millions of his likes spread over the country who drag forward their days of drudgery in harness like the washer-man’s donkey on the side- walk. He had only a few years’ service left and because of his relative seniority in the clerical cadre where he had stayed stuck up for the last 30 years, he was chosen as the Presiding Officer. He hardly knew the election rules but had become wise enough after so many years of meaningless existence as a clerk in the office of the Tank Improvement Officer that it was folly to venture to learn the intricacies of the poll process at this stage. So very prudently he had shaken off his responsibility and had assigned the task to the first polling officer whom he had rightly identified to be an intelligent and capable young man. He had slept all through the training sessions, all three days and woke up only to collect his training allowance and leave, after the rehearsals were over. Though it was not sound sleep exactly, those surely were some days of a different kind, away from the dark, swampy, dilapidated two roomed, one hundred year old building having the unmistakable look of a haunted house, long abandoned by the one time Zamindar of the area. Everyday he entered the office and so long he continued to stay there he was consistently hunted by the fear of snake and scorpion bite, if not the scare of being haunted by visitation of some unholy spirits from the other world. Tanks had long stopped to exist, offering no further scope to improve and he could not remember when for the last time he and his officer had done anything tangible for improvement of a tank. He was happy that they received their pay and allowances in full after expiry of each month with occasional increments and people had become completely oblivious of the presence of an office like theirs.

So he was looking back over his shoulders to gauge how much time more the young man might need to take over. He was busy no doubt as the unofficial officer in charge of the polling venue and functioned so long very efficiently after they had reached the spot the previous day. But whatever reason was given to the fire eating and fire spitting party functionary to be annoyed was occasioned by his first P.O and he knowing nothing of the conduct rules of the Election, also what had happened between two of them when he was sleeping in the adjacent room, he preferred to remain silent and not to be reactive at all.

The young man came over to the spot to utter relief of his boss and tried to offer his logic politely,-

“ See, we don’t have any intention or authority either to prevent a legitimate voter to vote. You are absolutely right at that. But…..”, the voice of the man trailed and got stifled as the representative of the people’s representative thundered back,

“ There can not be any “But” and these “Buts” are exactly what the bureaucracy has stood for over these long years at the instance of the bourgeois like you, the long rotten base of public administration”,- the fire dragon pronounced his verdict without allowing the humble public servant to proceed any further and complete his sentence.

“We will change this system and crush at the roots this retroactive mindset when we will take over the power.”

No body around could be sure about the seniority of the man in the echelon of the political outfit he appeared to belong to. But from the way he was talking, the air of superiority he was wearing all through on his face and the impression he was trying to create as an up and coming leader matching only the charisma of a world class leader, all gathering around him were bent upon to believe that he would make it to not less than a prime ministerial berth when his party would be in power.

“He is a valid voter, his name figures in the voter list of this area and he has to be allowed to vote”,- he finished with a finality.

“ Show me what is wrong with his identity as a voter?”

In a kind of reflex action he pulled out a bundle of not less than 500 voter identity cards from inside the side bag made of cloth and slung from his left shoulder. All were amazed as these in all fitness of things were to be in possession of the respective voters and none else. It seemed not unlikely that there might in his possession some more similar bundles.

The 1st Polling Officer had gathered already from the 4th Polling Officer who was a local guy that the ‘heavyweight’ had collected and kept in his custody nearly 2000 such voter I.D cards of the illegal immigrants from the neighbouring country whose safe entry into the State had been arranged by him and his party-men in collusion with the border police of both the Nations with the sole objective of having their names inserted in the voter list to upgrade the party’s otherwise flagging poll prospect. No one dared to question the would-be PM, however, about the legitimacy of his action. He had by now singled out one such card, reportedly issued in favour of the person now standing by his side. His age could possibly never be guessed by anybody except by expert medical examination. His shrunken face, his eyes lodged deep in his eye sockets and the likeness of a human skin lying wrapped around the jutting out bones of his body were no clue to how many years of humiliation he had been subjected to by his fortune so far. He might be anywhere between eighteen and eighty.

His escort held the plastic card showing no similarity of face of the fragile man of beggarly appearance standing in the crowd and staring vacantly into the faces of all who had surrounded him. Raising the card in his right hand and turning around almost 120 degree like a magician on the stage to attract attention of all present with carefully cultivated histrionics, the friend of the down trodden was repeating the same question,

“ Tell me, what is wrong with the identity of this man as a voter whom I have brought along”.

“ Come over”, he continued, “and look into the photograph printed in here and look into his face. Don’t you see the semblance of millions of poor, deprived, wretched inhabitants of this country, unfed, unclad, objects of sheer neglect down the centuries? Is he not the one for whom your Gandhi had forsaken all his clothes except a loin cloth?”

He paused for a moment, possibly to take a breath and to make an assessment of the extent of impression he had been able to create upon his listeners. He had cultivated this art of public speech by a long stint of practice in the field meetings over a decade and he had earned some reputation as a public speaker among his party colleagues. So he never missed the opportunity to sharpen his skill whenever there was a public gathering like the instant one. He had nothing to bother if it was a roadblock by the locals or a prearranged or unscheduled deputation to press demand before a public office.

He finished by saying in a selectively hushed and shocked voice, as if on the verge of crying,

“ They did not give him anything, no food to eat, no clothes to wear, no roof to rest his head below and see, now these callous custodians of the long decayed legislations of a corrupt country are bent upon snatching away his last possession, his citizen’s right. They possibly do not understand that they are not just depriving him to press the button of a machine but preventing a citizen of the largest democracy of the world to choose and determine to whom he would prefer to vest the responsibility to rule his country”.

The young polling officer, a man of commendable cool and presence of mind had kept silent so long as he had learnt rightly from his not so many years of experience that the kind of self styled leaders of the oppressed as one now before him ought not to be interrupted and stopped while they spoke. They looked for opportunity and occasion to speak and hated counter arguments whatsoever, being speech mongers, always averse
to listening to any body else speaking in their presence. Still, he felt that it was time now to do something to save the gathering situation if not to save his image as a ‘callous custodian of the decayed legislations of a corrupt country’. The voter in question was turned out of the polling station at the first instance, as he was mistaken to be a beggar sneaking inside by chance. He had no identity document with him and was not aware of why he was there. He had no knowledge of what was going on in there and why at all. When questioned, he said in incomplete and almost inaudible sentences that he had been told to come there by some persons who had picked him up ten to twelve days back from his dwelling spot under a nearby tree and had been lodged in a club building. There he had been given plenty of bread and potato curry several times a day to eat which was much beyond his capacity as he felt that he was now getting sick by over eating. He said that he had come as he was told but implored not to make him eat more breads.

“Just give me the voter I.D card, Sir and please come inside the polling station for a moment with him”, -the1st P.O requested the volunteer for the wretched.

“I have to look into his voter identity card once more and ask him some routine questions”.

He was sure that the ID card, which was being flashed as one having been issued in favor of the ‘valid voter’, was not genuine. The stamp size print seemingly of a photograph in black and white at the corner of the card was actually a smudge, telling nothing of the facial identity of a supposed voter but offering opportunity to clandestine operators to impersonate.

The man followed the polling officer in to the polling venue, not pleased but choosing not to object to the intended session of a further interrogation.

“What is your name?”, the young man asked.

“ Please, leave me. I can’t eat any more bread. I am suffocating. Look I have still so many left”, - he opened the knots of his makeshift container made of a piece of torn, dirty cloth. It appeared to contain as many as 8 to 10 fairly large pieces of bread that had now become dry, hard and stale.

“No. I will not give you bread. I am just asking you how others call you, your name,….name. Do you understand? Don’t you have a name like me? My name is Anil”, - the officer on poll duty tried to be candid and easy.

“ Bhiku”, - the man appeared to understand. Anil looked into the ID card where the name was written as Rajadhiraj Let.

“ Bhiku is his nickname. His real name is Rajadhiraj Let”, -the social activist chipped in promptly but very politely.

The officer did not appear to be impressed or listening either.

“ Who is Rajadhiraj Let? Don’t you have any other name except Bhiku?”,- he proceeded to question further.

It transpired that Bhiku had never known any person having a name as Rajadhiraj Let and truly he had one other name, i.e., Sri Bhikari Mondal. He had almost forgotten this now as he was never called by that name during the last thirty years after he had left his primary school in a village in Jessore district in Bangladesh where he lived in extreme poverty. Without further questioning what he spontaneously told in his own kind of way was that he was picked up from his village by some unknown persons with promise of food and shelter elsewhere, some six months back and was pushed beyond the border and was handed over to a new set of persons. They brought him to this place and made him live under a tree. They told him to beg during the daytime for his living what he was doing during the past few months until they took hold of him once again and put up him in a club building of the locality one week or so earlier.

The friend of the poor and the would be P.M lost control of all his senses now and bursting out in a fit of frenzied fury took Bhiku alias Bhikari Mondal alias Rajadhiraj Let by the neck and frisked him out of the narrow room with all the strength of his stockily built body in violent pushes.

“Come along! We owe you some more guest care’,- all inside and outside the polling venue heard the champion of the oppressed shouting at Bhiku in a blood chilling voice and no histrionics.

“Please, let me go”,-Bhiku was heard imploring. “ I can’t eat any more bread”.

“ Let that be left to us”,- pat came a reply out of some grinding teeth.

Then there was an abrupt, dull sound of an object hitting against a hard surface and a muffled voice of intense pain.

All from within the polling booth came rushing to the spot. The immobile frail body of Bhiku was seen lying on the ground. A thin line of blood had started streaming down his nose, corner of his eyes and his ears. The back of his head had hit the massive trunk of a tree when he was violently pushed by his philanthropic friend, the protector of his citizen’s right and showed deep injury mark with blood stains. Apparently Bhiku was not breathing and the social activist was not seen anywhere around.

A local doctor who was in the queue waiting for his turn to vote came up on his own to where Bhiku’s body was lying and examined him.

Bhiku was pronounced dead.

A voice from the crowd was heard saying,

“The King-maker is gone forever”.

“And the would be king is gone too”,- another voice complemented. 


More by :  Gautam Sengupta

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