The Prime Minister of Tawa: Chapter 7
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Mash was stunned.
‘Why should it concern anybody what nationality my wife and daughter are?’ he demanded.
‘It shouldn’t concern anybody Maheshdas-raan! But mark my words, it will. People will wonder why the daughter of someone who loves this country so much cannot speak our language. Why you did not ensure that your daughter holds a Tawan passport, they’ll all wonder. An election is won or lost on a tide of emotions and perceptions. People don’t always make decisions with their heads.’
‘Of course, the PDA has been hollering ever since they began campaigning that you should explain why you did not return to Tawa immediately after General Naranin fled and your way back was cleared.’
‘I did not return immediately since I was not yet confident that I could lead this country well. Now I am confident that I can do so. That’s why I have come back. As for my wife’s and daughter’s nationality, they’ll soon apply for Tawan citizenship.’
‘That’s brilliant. Would they also renounce their British nationality?’
‘No. I don’t think they will. They will hold dual nationality.’ There was no way Judy would agree to give up her British passport.
‘Could Judee-ree and Heather-ree apply for Tawan passports immediately? So that we can steal Kemon’s thunder?’
‘Definitely. I’ll speak to my wife and if you send me the necessary papers, I’ll have them filled up in a day or so.’
‘That’s so generous of your Maheshdas-raan,’ Nedeem gushed.
‘What’s next on the agenda?’
‘Your schedule Maheshdas-raan. As you know, we have sixty constituencies. Sixty candidates. And they all want you to campaign for them. So, it’s going to be an unending series of rallies and meetings for the next six weeks, I’m afraid.’
‘That’s fine. I’m used to hard work.’ He had worked much harder at Halboroughs than any of these politicians had done at any time in their lives.
‘Actually Maheshdas-raan, meeting voters is not so painful. It’s the donors who are really anal.’
‘I guess we don’t have a choice. If we need their money, they will want something from us.’
‘Yes. And they know that we are at our most vulnerable at this point. So, they insist on extracting as many promises from us as possible.’
‘Not that we keep all our promises,’ Peelee said with a mirthful chuckle.
‘Well, we have to keep some of them. Otherwise, they won’t trust us at all the next time,’ Horan retorted.
‘Maheshdas-raan, until we announced your arrival, the PDA was actually getting more contributions from businessmen than we did. But now we are getting a lot, lot more,’ Nedeem Balvanee informed Mash.
‘Which is another sure sign that we are going to win,’ a party member said.
Horan took out a black suitcase from under his chair and opened it. He took out a few sheets of paper and gave them to Mash.
‘This is your schedule for the next six weeks, till the elections are over. And the manifesto is underneath this, here. And this,’ Horan took out another two sheets of paper from his briefcase, ‘this is the list of our candidates and their opponents in each constituency. I hope you are not too displeased with our arrangements. Ideally, Maheshdas-raan, if you could have come here a bit earlier, you could have decided the schedule and the manifesto yourself.’ Horan’s eyes had a slightly sad and disapproving look, the sort of look a royal physician would give his King who indulged himself too much and got diarrhoea.
‘Horan-raan, after I decided to come back, I still had to give three months’ notice at the firm where I worked. They settled for ten weeks, but I honestly could not have come back earlier. Also, Heather had to finish her Easter term.’
‘I understand Maheshdas-raan. I understand perfectly. And we did discuss things over the phone a few times, didn’t we? Would you like to go through the manifesto now? You’ll have to release it tomorrow evening at the Harbour rally. To be frank, there’s nothing new in the manifesto. We’ve been making so many election speeches, we’ve more or less given out what’s in the manifesto.’ Horan continued to speak in the humblest tone, as if everything Mash was going to do was a big favour to him.
‘So, I’m going to release our manifesto tomorrow?’
‘Yes Maheshdas-raan. Why don’t you go through the schedule and read the manifesto once? We can discuss any questions which you may have.’
‘So, let’s see what’s in the manifesto.’ Mash started to flip the pages. What does this say? Hello! It’s all in Keenda.’
‘You’ll be speaking in Keenda, Maheshdas-raan.’
‘Well yes, but it’s been so long since I’ve read anything in Keenda that I don’t think I can read it fluently.’
‘I am sure that if you read it a few times beforehand, you should be okay.’ Not even a hint of irritation or disapproval crept into Horan’s voice. He also managed to avoid sounding patronising. Peelee on the other hand looked as if he was bursting to tease Mash about his inability to read Keenda fluently.
‘I will have to do that, won’t I?’
‘And most of your speeches will be the same.’
‘I know, I know.’
‘Can you do me a favour Horan-raan?’
‘Tell me, Maheshdas-raan.’
‘Can you please summarise the election manifesto for me?’
‘I shall do that Maheshdas-raan. But do read it for yourself later.’ Horan waited for Mash to nod his head in agreement. When he did, Horan continued, ‘the main promise we are making is to recreate the Tawa that existed while Seleem-raan was alive. Rather than give too many messages to the voters, we stick to a core message. Okay?’
‘So far, so good.’
‘Now, I’ll quickly take you through our positions on all major issues. The main issue is the Seeda insurgency. We will never compromise on our nation’s integrity. But we will do all we can to ensure a just and amicable settlement.’
‘Tell me, what do the Seedas want? What does Hanoleeyan want?’
‘He wants independence. Nothing short of independence.’
‘So he wants independence and we will agree to anything but that. So, what’s the point of negotiating?’
‘We have to negotiate to show the people that we desire peace. We want other countries to believe that we want peace. If not, the World Bank will ask us to repay the loan they’ve given us.’
‘How much money is that, Horan-raan?’
‘Not much Maheshdas-raan. They have given us fifty million dollars. Interest free. Repayable after forty years. Unless of course we show ourselves to be uninterested in peace talks. As long as we are willing to talk to those Seeda bastards, they will not recall the loan.’
‘So, do you really feel that negotiations are a sham and that the only solution is a military solution?’
‘Not really Maheshdas-raan. You see, the Seedas first rose up in 1980.’
‘I remember that. I was in my final year at college in London. I did follow the happenings here from there, you know.’
‘General Naranin crushed them in a year’s time. That man was a very bad man, but he did two good things. First, he crushed the communists. That was immediately after he came to power. They remain crushed even now. The CPT is a joke these days. They’ll stand for elections, but they are unlikely to win any seats even if they demand that Tawa should claim debt fatigue and not repay the money, we owe the US. The second good thing General Naranin did was to crush the Seedas. He beat the shit out of them. After that, the Seedas have been fighting a low-key battle. We couldn’t hold elections in the Central Hill District during the last elections. However, the Seedas are quite exhausted now. Their leaders may want to fight to the death, but they are quite tired. Because the Seedas no longer have the stomach for a fight, Hanoleeyan may be forced to go in for a peace settlement. If he doesn’t, he may lose support at home.’
‘So, we may get a settlement.’
‘I think we have a very good chance. After all, during your father’s time, the Seedas kept quiet and were quite happy to be part of Tawa. So, we say that if the TFP is in power and Maheshdas-raan is the Prime Minister, Tawa will be peaceful as it used to be when Seleem-raan was in power.
‘Fine. I am with you. What’s next?’
‘Jobs. We will create new jobs.’
‘To be honest Maheshdas-raan, I don’t have the faintest idea. But generally, we only make promises in the election manifesto. We don’t really explain how we plan to fulfil the promises. If we are desperate, we could get the plantations to hire a few more people. The government owns the plantations and so getting them to hire more people is not difficult.’
‘Ah, the plantations. I did hear that they are in a bad shape. I have some ideas for improving things there.’
‘Well, if you have a good idea, we can mention it in the manifesto. A good idea is always welcome.’
‘It’s very simple. 'We should privatise those plantations immediately. It’s not the government’s job to run plantations. They should never have been nationalised in the first place.’
‘But Maheshdas-raan, no private party would want to buy them unless they have the right to fire the existing employees,’ one of the party member’s exclaimed.
‘And how would that increase the number of jobs?’ another added.
‘I know it is a tough thing to do, but each day the government runs those plantations, they lose their value. Each day of delay costs us money. So we need to fire a lot of people and then sell them to the highest bidder.' There was stunned silence.
'Have you visited a single government-owned plantation Maheshdas-raan?' Peelee asked him. ‘Do you know how many workers and their families are supported by each hectare of pepper or cardamom or rubber or tea or coffee?’
'I do not need to have visited those plantations to know that they should be sold as soon as possible. I used to work for an accounting firm. I know a little bit about valuations and profit and loss. And if we were to sell the plantations on condition that none of the workmen should be fired, then we get that much less money.'
'It is not as simple as that Raan,' Horan said in his most soothing voice. 'To begin with, we need to win the elections. Once we win the election, then we can do more or less what we want. But first we must win. If we lose, then all our efforts are wasted. So, we need to win. And how do we win? By telling the people what they like to hear. Or at least, by not telling them things they do not want to hear. If we tell people that we plan to privatise the plantations, Kemon-raan will immediately take the stand that his party will never let the plantations end up in private hands. And he will easily gain the votes of all the people who stand to lose their jobs if we privatise the plantations. And the votes of their families as well. Of course, the CPT will also kick up a ruckus if we mention the word privatisation. On the other hand, if we don’t mention the dirty word “privatisation”, we will win the elections. Once we win, we can do what we like.'
It was Mash’s turn to remain silent. He had to agree with Horan. What was the point of spelling out such policies to the voters in advance? Win the elections first and then do whatever you feel like. If any politician adopted such an attitude in the UK or any other developed country, he would be tarred and feathered. But the rules were different in Tawa, weren’t they?
‘Can’t we announce a few schemes? Say we make an announcement that we are going to set up a factory which will employ two thousand people. Won’t that make a difference?’
‘No Maheshdas-raan, it won’t. You see, the PDA will then say they are planning to do the same, only that their factory will employ three thousand people. And where would that leave us?’
‘Do we explain how we plan to repay the billion dollars we owe the United States?’
‘No, we don’t. We just keep quiet. We can’t match the communists on this point. They’ll say that we should not repay the money which General Naranin borrowed.’
‘What if I say that I hope to get the United States to write off that loan?’
‘Really, Maheshdas-raan?’ Horan asked with a smile on his face. ‘No, Maheshdas-raan, I don’t think they’ll believe you if you say that. The Americans have been ignoring us for so many years. Why should they write off this loan?’
‘I plan to encourage the Chinese to return. Should we mention that?’
‘No Maheshdas-raan. They are good businesspeople and we do need them. But most people here don’t particularly like them. The Chinese who are yet to return ….’
‘Cannot vote for us,’ Mash completed the sentence for Horan who burst out laughing. ‘Maheshdas-raan, you are learning very fast.’
‘Of course, we’ll say that we plan to improve the state of our roads and railways. We’ll lay more roads, provide drinking water, ensure an uninterrupted supply of electricity, the usual standard stuff.’
‘And we don’t have to say how we’ll generate the money that’ll pay for all this?’
‘No, Maheshdas-raan. We don’t.’
‘The railways are in a particularly bad state, aren’t they?’
‘Yes, they are.’
‘Any idea how much it’ll cost to fix that?’
‘The last time we had an estimate done, it was almost twenty-five billion puvees.’
‘Five hundred million dollars?’ Mash had had enough. He decided to leave. ‘Tell you what Horan-raan, let me take this with me and read it. If I have any comments, I’ll discuss them with you.’
‘That’s fine Maheshdas-raan. We’ll meet at the EC conference today evening.’
‘Today evening? Is there a conference? What conference?’
‘Yes Maheshdas-raan. It’s in your schedule. It’s our executive council meet. We need to elect you as the Chairman of our party before we start canvassing votes from the general public.’
‘So, I am standing for election as the Chairman of the TFP?’
‘And the election is to be held today?’
‘Yes, Maheshdas-raan. ‘You may not know this, but the party’s Chairman becomes the leader of the parliamentary party. If we win, the Chairman becomes the Prime Minister. If not, he becomes the leader of the opposition.’
‘So, who is the Chairman right now?’
‘I am the Chairman, and I will resign tonight. And you will stand for election. And of course, you will win. Don’t worry Maheshdas-raan. It’ll be just a formality. But you will get to meet the entire executive council. They are all dying to meet you.’
‘Is there anyone else standing for election?’
‘No. No one else! Why would anyone stand for election against you? Within the party, everyone supports you. You know that don’t you Maheshdas-raan?’
Mash was tempted to talk about the need for intra-party democracy. He would ideally have liked to have a challenger, face a real election and then win the party Chairman’s post. But he decided to let it pass. There just wasn’t enough time for him to explain the importance of transparency, intra-party democracy etc to Horan and others and then find a challenger who would fight him and lose gracefully. The important thing was that he was on his way to becoming Prime Minister.
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