The Prime Minister of Tawa – 18
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Election Day, a Sunday, dawned bright and clear. It was a typical summer’s day without any sign of the impending monsoon rains. By the time the polling stations opened at nine in the morning, it was very warm with every possibility of the day becoming unbearably hot by midday. People started queuing in front of the polling stations very early, even though the polling stations would stay open until five in the evening. Tawans enjoyed elections and treated them like any other festival. Since the SFF had declared a ceasefire, security was lax and all policemen had a relatively relaxed air about them. The minimum age to be eligible to vote was twenty-one. The voter turnout was very high. Most people would not only vote, but also inform everyone else in advance of whom they were going to vote for. The polling stations were all located in schools and local municipal offices and school teachers and local government officials formed the core of polling officers. As per law, all the three parties had stopped campaigning two days before the day of election. The dust from all the activity rose from the ground and hung in the air, giving an orange tint to the sunlight.
The interior ministry had processed Judy’s application for Tawan citizenship at record speed and issued her with a brand-new passport. The very day Judy got her passport, her name was added to the electoral rolls. Judy and Mash went off to vote at their designated polling station, which was located inside a local junior school. The walls of the school had campaign posters of all the three political parties pasted on it. Some of the TFP posters had a grieving fifteen-year-old Mash with his father’s dead body in the background. Some others had a more up to date photograph, blown up to cover the entire poster. Vote for a return of Seleem-raan’s golden rule, they beseeched. Vote for the Bicycle. The PDA posters had the vital statistics that any responsible voter ought to know. Inflation, unemployment and the prospect of Seeda insurgents gaining further ground. Vote for the Lantern or else the country would go to the dogs. The Communist Party of Tawa demanded even more land reforms and redistribution of land. Land to the tiller. All property should be state property, the CPT posters demanded. Vote for the hammer and sickle to retrieve the country from the dogs.
Mash was standing for election from the Hepara North constituency. His father had stood for elections in the same constituency four times and won on all four occasions. A final DCI report had indicated that the TFP was heading for a landslide victory. Mash had every reason to feel optimistic about his chances of winning. When Mash and Judy arrived at the polling station, a few reporters and camera men were waiting for them. There was a long queue, but Mash and Judy were taken to the booth inside, as soon as they arrived.
‘It’s not right you know, what we are doing,’ Judy told Mash as soon as they were inside the polling station and out of earshot of the reporters. ‘Jumping the queue when there are so many people waiting to vote. What if one of the journalists writes about it?’
‘Well, if we were to stand in the queue with six policemen and all those camera men standing around us, we’d be in the way. Plus, it becomes a security issue.’ Mash justified their action.
Judy sighed. Mash was right. In a country like Tawa, leaders would not survive without special privileges. If she were to stand in queue like anybody else, she would die of the heat and dust, that is, if the Seeda insurgents did not make her a target. It was not like at home when candidates made it a point of honour to stand in the queue for their turn to cast their vote. Even the reporters did not seem to have a problem with what they had done. She had had to don a doree and sarong and wrap a thuli around her since it was a public appearance. These days she used a belt to secure the sarong and was no longer in fear of the sarong falling away. If only someone had suggested it to her when she came off the plane six weeks ago!
The polling officials applied a dot of ink to their index fingers and gave them a ballot paper each to stamp and drop into the box. Judy placed the stamp on the bicycle and came out of the booth for women at the same time when Mash came out of his booth. They jointly walked out of the polling station and proudly held up their index fingers for the reporters to see.
After voting Mash dropped Judy off at their home and went to the TFP office. A huge crowd of party workers had gathered there. The mood was quite optimistic. Most of the candidates were in their individual constituencies. Vikan was contesting from the south-eastern coastal district where he had grown up. Nedeem, Dimanan, Peelee were all away in their respective constituencies. Horan was standing for election from Cornovee, but was nowhere to be seen.
‘Is Horan-raan likely to be here?’ Mash asked a party functionary.
‘We got a call saying the Prime Minister has cast his vote and is on his way to the party office.’ The functionary seemed embarrassed to have used the word Prime Minister. Horan wouldn’t be Prime Minister for long. He opened his mouth to say something that would convey that Mash was about to become the Prime Minister, but could not form any words.
‘Any news from the Central Hill District?’ Mash asked the functionary to help him hide his embarrassment.
‘Yes Maheshdas-raan. I mean, everything is peaceful there. People are voting in large numbers.’
‘I wonder, when was the last time the Seedas in the hill district voted?’ Mash mused.
‘It’s been a while Maheshdas-raan. They must have voted last when Seleem-raan was in power.’
Soon Horan arrived. He came up to Mash and hugged him. ‘Maheshdas-raan, you wouldn’t know how glad I am that you are with us now. This election reminds me of the elections we had immediately after independence. We were so young and idealistic in those days.’
A crowd gathered around them, each person in the crowd doing his best to stand close to Mash without getting too close.
‘So, do you think we will win?’ Mash asked Horan with a twinkle in his eye.
‘Not only will we win, but we will win with a handsome margin! And you will be a good ruler. You may not have experience, but the people like you and we are here to guide you.’ The prospect of Horan telling him how to do his job for the next five years was not very appealing to Mash. Mash was glad he had made his plans to get Horan out of his way. Thank God for Urush. He couldn’t have found someone better than Urushambo to plan his coup. Since Urush was not a politician and had no vested interests, everyone involved in the planned coup trusted him. Mash could sense that both Nedeem and Vikan realised that Urushambo had Mash’s ear and respected him for it. Dimanan was in awe of everybody involved in the coup except Vikan since Vikan was Seeda. But as long as Vikan was in Mash’s camp, he would work with Vikan as well.
‘Tell us about the first elections, the one immediately after independence,’ he asked Horan in order to change the topic.
‘Well, in those days there was no way of predicting what the popular sentiment was or who would win the elections. The communists were our rivals. And there was a feeling that the CPT might actually carry the day. They claimed that if they came to power, they would immediately redistribute all the land and make everybody equal. We did not make such revolutionary statements. But Seleem-raan had done so much for the country during our freedom struggle, that people trusted him. So, they voted for Seleem-raan and the TFP, even though they might have found the CPT’s ideology much more appealing.’
‘It was a landslide victory, wasn’t it?’
‘Oh yes it was. We won fifty out of sixty seats. The commie bastards won nine seats and there was an independent candidate, an Anglo-Tawan man who owned a plantation up north, who won the Nalvettipura seat.’
‘What happened to him?’
‘He died in an accident within a year of becoming an MP. He liked to go sailing in his yatch and one day he was lost at sea. We held a bye-election for that seat and we won that as well. So, we had fifty one seats in the parliament.
‘How did you campaign in those days?’
‘You see, the elections were held when the British still ruled the country. So, we did not have any access to any government vehicles or anything like that. In those days, the Hepara Herald was run by an Englishman who was quite left-wing. So he gave equal coverage to us and to the CPT. All the Keenda papers praised Seleem-raan a lot. Everyone knew that the CPT did not fight for our independence. They were always much more interested in forging a global socialist alliance than in taking care of Tawa’s interests. And during the Second World War, they had practically stopped opposing the British after the Soviet Union entered the war. We had a lot of time to campaign for votes. The British announced a year in advance that they would leave Tawa on 23 January and we’d be independent from the 24th. Elections were held in early December and it took almost a week for the votes to be counted. The British officials announced the election results and went off on holiday to the Central Hill District for Christmas. They then came back from their holiday, packed up and sailed away, leaving us to run our country.’
‘That was a different era wasn’t it? With different values, different ethos … there’s no real point in comparing those days with our times, is there?’ Mash decided to be polite to Horan. After all, he would not only cease to be the Prime Minister, but be would out of the ministry all together soon.’
‘You still had all sorts of people even in those days. Look at Kemon-raan. He used to be one of Seleem-raan’s blue eyed boys. He even was the Interior and Defence Minister for five years. Yet when that bastard Naranin made him an offer, he accepted it and became his quisling.’
‘You never know who’ll turn traitor and who’ll stay loyal.’
‘So you will be moving into my house soon. Are you looking forward to it? I’m sure you are quite familiar with it.’
Mash did not reply for a full minute. Then he said, ‘well, the Prime Minister has to stay at the Residency, shouldn’t he?’
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