The Prime Minister of Tawa: Chapter 11
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It was at the rally held at the harbour that Mash experienced the best part of being a politician. The harbour rally was his first public appearance and there were almost fifty thousand people listening to him. Mash addressed the crown from a makeshift stage. They were mostly from the lower classes, many of them harbour workers. If somebody had described the experience to Mash, he would not have believed it. It had to be experienced to be understood. The power of the masses and to be at the centre of it! To be adored by the people. Every word which Mash said was lapped up. Every pause in his speech was filled with applause. Every gesture made by Mash made his audience jump up and shout slogans. Long Live Maheshdas-raan! they shouted. Long Live Seleem-raan, they screamed. If Mash punched his fist in the air, while declaring that he would eradicate poverty, the masses rose up as one, clapping their hands as loud as they could. And Mash soon understood the power of rhetoric. ‘We will never compromise on the unity and integrity of our island,’ he declared, and the people greeted it with applause. A few men thumbed their chests. It didn’t matter that Mash did not explain or justify his statement. The people agreed with everything Mash told them. His desire to make Tawa prosperous, where there would be enough for everybody’s need, though not for everybody’s greed. His ambition to build more schools and colleges, so that every Tawan child would grow up as an educated and literate person. His love for peace, peace all around, especially between the Keendas and the Seedas. It didn’t matter that he could not have explained how he would achieve each of his desires and hopes and aspirations, which represented the desires and hopes and aspirations of every individual in that crowd. The crowd trusted him and they took it all in. They believed in the manifesto which Mash read out to them. They believed every word in it. They believed that Mash would be able to implement the manifesto.
The experience was quite different from yesterday where he spoke at the TFP executive council meet. Out there, Mash was greeted with great enthusiasm. All twenty members of the executive council realised that Mash alone was capable of leading the TFP to victory. But their support for him was quite different from the unadulterated adulation which the crowd at this rally exhibited. One of the executive council members even asked why Mash couldn’t have come back to Tawa five years ago when General Naranin fled Tawa. It was quite obvious that they supported him solely because they were unlikely to win the elections without him.
Horan spoke after Mash. He spoke of how it was a huge relief for him to be able to hand over charge to the infinitely more capable Maheshdas-raan. He could well remember coming to the harbour with Seleem-raan many, many years ago to welcome a visiting foreign ship. Seleem-raan had brought his son Maheshdas-raan along. From the way Maheshdas-raan had spoken to the ship’s captain, Horan had realised that Maheshdas-raan had enormous confidence and leadership skills. Mash had a vague memory of the whole thing. He remembered tagging along with his father one day when he went to the harbour to attend a function. His father did not really want to take him along, but Mash had cried a lot and finally his own mother had requested his father to take him along. His father used to find it difficult to say No to his mother, who was eighteen years younger than him. It had been a US naval ship on a goodwill tour which they had gone to receive. Mash had a vague memory of the ship’s band playing something. They had looked so smart while the Tawan guards who welcomed them were so shabbily dressed.
‘Papa is America the strongest country in the world?’ Mash had asked his father on their way home. His father had taken the trouble to explain international politics to Mash. ‘There are two very powerful countries in the world. They are the USA and the USSR. And then there are two countries in our neighbourhood that are very big, very crowded, unbelievably greedy and have a lot of extremely poor people. They are India and China. We need to keep each of these four countries happy.’ Mash wasn’t too sure if it had been a good idea for his father to have kept Tawa non-aligned. After General Naranin took over, he had ditched Seleem Zoloda’s policies and swung entirely to the USA. The US had promptly set up a naval base at Yalee. As long as the US maintained their naval base at Yalee and aid flowed to General Naranin, he stayed secure. If his father had not been stupidly neutral, if Seleem Zoloda had buttered up to either the USA or the USSR, may be, General Naranin might not have taken over.
Horan had not particularly wanted to speak that day, but Nedeem Balvanee, in his role as general secretary, had prevailed on him to say a few words. And it soon became clear who the crowd’s favourite was. People listened to Horan speak in bored silence. As if the price of listening to Mash was to be forced to hear Horan as well. A few actually started to leave. If there was any doubt as to Mash’s indispensability, such doubts were banished forever. ‘They need me, the bastards,’ Mash told himself. But that did not obviate the need for him to find a team of his own. A few good men, or even women, whom he could trust. Someone he had something in common with. No, he did not plan to locate some of his long-lost family members, those who survived General Naranin’s purge. He knew the sort of people they would be. Specimens like that Yanamil Uncle who somehow managed to sweet talk his way into the party office yesterday while the executive council meet was on and wait for him in the lobby. ‘I’ve been trying to contact you ever since you reached our country yesterday. And these people wouldn’t let me in, he had shouted to Mash as Mash was leaving the building. Mash had stopped, smiled at Yanamil uncle and told his colleagues in the executive council, ‘this is my uncle Mr. Yanamil Rebana. My mother’s cousin. Now that you have seen him, please make sure you do him no favours at all. Please ignore him henceforth.’ He turned to Yanamil uncle who was looking crestfallen and said, ‘you can come and meet me at home sometime. After I have settled in. I’ll send for you.’ With that he had walked away. He was sure that many of his relatives, especially from his mother’s side, did survive General Naranin and were trying to get in touch with him. But it wouldn’t be easy to get access to him. He was surrounded by rings of party men and bureaucrats and security personnel. Unless he gave specific instructions that a person be allowed access to him, such person would find it impossible to get anywhere near him or even send him a message.
During the executive council meeting yesterday, Nedeem Balvanee told him that they had collected a few sacks full of letters for him delivered to the party office. Ever since his return to Tawa had been announced, people had started to write to him, care of the party office.
‘We should get a few people to start reading the letters and replying to them,’ Mash had told Nedeem Balvanee. His statement had caught Nedeem by surprise. ‘But what’s the point. The letters will be long vague letters asking for jobs or money. Or your help in solving some land dispute.’
‘Nevertheless, we ought to have a few people dedicated to answering letters sent to me. It is just good policy.’
Nedeem Balvanee had promised to form a team who would answer letters sent to Mash and, if appropriate, forward it to the relevant ministry to take suitable action.
Horan spoke for around fifteen minutes. The man maintained a blank face. It must be difficult for him to give up power. He was no longer Chairman of the TFP. He would soon cease to be Prime Minister. He was no longer the top crowd puller for the party. But Horan did not seem to be too unhappy about it. Nedeem Balvanee proposed a vote of thanks.
At the executive council meeting yesterday, Nedeem Balvanee had come up with a proposal to have a Sage attend the rally and bless Mash in front of everyone. Horan had vetoed it. ‘We are hopeful that this time, we will be able to hold elections in the Central Hill District. We have a good chance of roping the Seedas to our side. With some luck, all our candidates in the Central Hill District should win. The PDA does not have a single candidate in the Central Hill District. The communists on the other hand have fielded five strong candidates there. If we can show that we will not discriminate against the Seedas, we have a good chance of winning all five seats in the Central Hill District. Seleem-raan had wanted to created a Tawa were everyone would be treated alike, irrespective of their religious beliefs. And that’s our main promise. To recreate the golden era of Seleem-raan’s rule. Getting a Sage on the stage will not project the right image.’ The others had agreed with Horan.
The discussion regarding the Sage had added to Mash’s feeling of impotence. He knew the basic statistics. Keendas formed eighty percent of the population. The Seedas formed the rest. All Keendas subscribed to Deelahee. But only a minuscule percent of the Seedas were Deelahees. So, did it help to have a Sage bless him at an election rally? Did it help to invoke the Guardian’s name? Would he lose Seeda votes if he did? Would he lose Keenda votes if he did not? He had no clue whatsoever.
In any event, Mash’s election campaign included a visit to a couple of monasteries where he would be blessed a few Sages and a visit to a sacred hillock in the Central Hill District which was venerated by the Seedas.
The Deelahee faith had been originally founded in the Indian subcontinent by the Great Mughul Emperor Akbar, who called it Din-i-lahi. Its creation was an attempt by Emperor Akbar to reconcile the various faiths prevalent in his empire and sought to draw upon the best practices of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism and Zoroastrianism. It did not specify any Gods or prophets and combined nature worship and mysticism. After his death in 1605, the religion nearly died. However, it was practiced by a few hundred people who were drawn from all the religions that existed in the Indian sub-continent at that time. After Akbar's great-grandson Aurangazeb came to power, life became quite difficult for the practitioners of Din-i-lahi. They were forced to pay the Jaziya, a harsh tax levied on all non-Muslims. In 1669, around 11 years he came to power, Aurangazeb finally decided that its adherents who had been Muslims or had Muslim ancestry were guilty of apostasy. Many were killed. A few hundred people under the leadership of one Wasim Khan, a distant cousin of Emperor Aurangazeb, managed to flee to the south of India from where they sailed to Tawa. Some of the practitioners of Din-i-lahi who did not have an Islamic past, mainly Hindus plus a handful of Christians, Jains and Zoroastrians, quietly reverted to their original faiths.
The refugees prospered in Tawa. The island of Tawa was not very large. Though its people were not particularly industrious, it had plenty of fertile land and was quite a peaceful place, very different from the Mughal kingdom they escaped from. The House of Moshee ruled Tawa and the King was delighted with the new arrivals. They brought many skills which his kingdom lacked. Tawa was too far away from Agra, the capital city of the Mughal empire, for the King to worry about incurring the wrath of Aurangazeb. At the time of the refugee's arrival, both the Keendas and the Seedas practised different versions of animism. The Seedas lived mainly in the hill district in the centre of Tawa and did not have much to do with the Keendas. Once the refugees from India established themselves, they started to spread Din-i-lahi in Tawa. The entire Keenda population, including the King, adopted Din-i-lahi without much resistance. In turn, the refugees adopted the Keenda language, and the ways and customs of Tawa. However, the new religion did not make much headway with the Seedas who preferred to stick with their nature worship.
Din-i-lahi or Deelahee as the Tawans called it, underwent immense change in Tawa. In its original form, it did not have a God or any prophets. However, in Tawa, its founder Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar was elevated to a position which any God would envy. Akbar's picture found a place in the homes of most Deelahees. Maheshdas, who used to be Akbar's favourite courtier and was more commonly known as Birbal in Akbar's court, one of the earliest converts to Din-i-lahi, was elevated to a position not much different from that of a saint or a prophet. Wasim Khan or Veseem as he came to be known in Tawa, the man who led the Deelahees to safety from Aurangazeb's wrath was yet another venerated figure. Akbar was formally known as the Guardian (never God), while leaders such as Maheshdas, Veseem, Kemon, Horan, Sloranan etc. were formally known as the Guides.
The Deelahees were led by monks, called Sages, who had a very loose hierarchy, with a few at the top. The power and prestige of each Sage or order of Sages depended on the number of followers they commanded and the influence which such followers had. There was no religious book which could be equated to the Bible or the Koran, but by the middle of the 18th century, the teachings of Akbar, Maheshdas, Veseem and other Guides had been compiled into a book called the Advice. The Advice guided the Deelahees. It taught them that Akbar was born human but was elevated to the position of Guardian on his death.
By the time Nedeem Balvanee completed his vote of thanks, one-fourth of the people had left. The Tawan national anthem was sung and the people who were left stood to attention. The anthem had been composed by the poet Tanna during Tawa’s freedom struggle. Tanna-raan had been a friend of his father’s and had been a frequent visitor to their house. Mash could still remember the nights when they had Tanna Uncle for supper. After the meal, Tanna uncle would recite his latest poem or other creation and his father and others at the table would praise Tanna uncle. Tanna the Poet was now no more. He had died a few years after the coup. Mash wished Tanna uncle were around. He could have asked him for some advice and not ended up with a request to find a job for his second cousin from nowhere. Which was most probably what Yanamil uncle had been after. Should he have given Yanamil uncle the benefit of doubt and not snubbed him?
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