The Prime Minister of Tawa – 30
Contiued from Previous Page
Ted Hoffman called up Mash in the middle of the night to tell him about Bendron Corp. Mash had of course heard of Bendron Corp. It was one of the largest American MNCs, with interests in mining, construction, steel, aluminium, power and what not. It was the sort of company which Norman Lumley and other partners at Halboroughs would die to have on their client roster. And apparently Bendron Corp was interested in investing in Tawa. And their plans were MNC-size. No, they did not plan to set up a hotel on the Hepara beach. No, no, they were actually considering the revival of the Quaree River Project. The Quaree river project had been planned even before Tawa became independent. The British had proposed the construction of a large dam across the Quaree River in order to generate electricity as early as 1946. The Quaree originated from the highest peak in the Central Hill District and flowed westwards through a valley between the mountain chains that formed the central highlands. After leaving the Central Hill District, it reached Hepara and followed into the Indian Ocean. British army engineers had proposed to build the dam in the central highlands in such a way that the mountains on either side of the valley would form a barrier trapping the waters of the Quaree. The project had not gone beyond the planning stage since the independence movement had gathered steam after the Second World War got over.
After Tawa got independence, a Dutch conglomerate had shown interest in building the dam. In addition, the Dutchmen also wanted to an aluminium plant which would be powered by electricity from the dam. Tawa had plenty of bauxite from which aluminium could be extracted. The project ran into trouble when the Dutch company suggested that electricity should be supplied to the aluminium smelter at a rate of one puvee per unit, while the excess electricity should be purchased by the government at the price of three puvees per unit. Seleem Zoloda had not agreed. One puvee per unit was too cheap and three puvees per unit was too exorbitant a price. The Dutchmen had lost interest and the project remained on paper.
Now, another company was planning to revive the Quaree River Project. Ted sounded genuinely excited. He had received a phone call from the CEO of Bendron Corp a few minutes ago. It was only a proposal which Bendron Corp’s CEO wanted to present to his board. And before doing so, she thought she should speak to her friend Ted who had emailed her a note on the various business opportunities in Tawa. After all, Ted understood Tawa better than anyone else in the world, didn’t he? Except the Tawans of course.
‘Is there anything I can do to bag this?’
‘At the moment, No. But it won’t hurt to have a peace treaty with the SFF. The fact that both parties to this conflict have extended the ceasefire indefinitely and that you are negotiating with the SFF does help. But it is not the same as having a peace settlement.’
Mash sighed. Reaching agreement with the SFF was easier said than done. Rhymala was a sensible woman, but she was bound by the instructions she carried from Hanoleeyan. Since Hanoleeyan had not turned up, the cabinet was adamant that Mash should not attend the negotiations. Mash was forced to agree. As a result Nedeem Balvanee in his capacity as interior minister negotiated on behalf of the government. They had tried to get the four TFP MPs elected from the Central Hill District to take part in the negotiations. The MPs were willing to do so, provided they could negotiate on behalf of the Seedas rather than the government. We’ve been elected from the Central Hill District and we are accountable to our people, all the four TFP MPs said. The bastards can’t be trusted. Traitors all, Nedeem had fumed.
The MPs were offered the choice of being present at the negotiations, where they could play a neutral role. One of the MPs was willing to do so, but the other three refused point blank. We support all the demands made by the SFF, other than the demand for independence. ‘They have taken an oath on the constitution of Tawa. How dare they behave like this?’ Vikan had ranted and raved in front of Mash and the rest of the cabinet. None of them can be trusted, went the popular refrain within the ministry. ‘We already have Vikan. We don’t need any more Seedas,’ Nedeem argued. Mash tried to put forth an argument that Vikan, though an admirable man and technically a Seeda, was not from the Central Hill District, but there were no takers for his point of view. Finally it was decided that none of the Seeda MPs should be involved in the negotiations.
The intractable points remained the same as ever before. The SFF wanted the monarchy to be abolished. The Seedas had ignored the existence of the House of Moshee till the Europeans arrived. After they left, the Seedas had steadfastedly refused to recognise the authority of the Moshees. It was impossible for Seedas to live in a country where the nominal head of state was a Moshee.
If they can’t live in a country where the nominal head of state is a Moshee, let them go elsewhere, Nedeem and Dimanan screamed as soon as they heard the demand. Vikan shook his head in embarrassment and bewilderment. How could the SFF be so unreasonable?
In that case, could the government at least give an undertaking that no member of the House of Moshee would ever set foot in Seedaland? If the Keendas wanted a monarchy, fine. That was up to them. But the Seedas should be able to live without one.
No way. The government of Tawa could not and would not agree to anything which belittled the House of Moshee. Surely the Seedas realised that the monarchy was a symbol which all Tawans looked up to. Tawa would always have a common flag, common currency, army, foreign policy – and a monarch respected by all Tawans.
Then there was the demand for the autonomous region to have its own flag. The Seedas had fought for the last twenty odd years under the SFF’s flag. How could the SFF be expected to forget their flag all of a sudden?
We are not going to give independence to the Central Hill District. No, that is not on the table. Why can’t that miserable woman understand? They have to live under our common flag! Nedeem duly conveyed the cabinet’s position to Rhymala.
Could the Central Hill District be formally renamed as Seedaland?
Noooo. Not really. Seedaland sounds like an independent country. Well, okay. You can call it the Autonomous Region of Seedaland.
Could Hanoleeyan call himself the President of Seedaland? Or at least its Prime Minister, if they were to have a common monarch?
No, he could not. Didn’t the SFF understand what the government was offering them? It was autonomy and not independence that was on the table.
No. It was not that Rhymala did not understand what the government was offering the SFF. It was that the SFF did not accept the government’s offer. Instead of rejecting the offer and walking out, they were doing their best to work out a compromise. The government had offered the SFF an autonomous Seedaland which would share a common currency, a common foreign policy, the same head of state, the same flag etc. with the rest of the country. Fifteen percent of the government budget would be earmarked for Seedaland. The autonomous council of Seedaland could do what it liked with that fifteen percent. There would be no controls and no questions would be asked as long as the money was not used to buy heavy artillery or helicopter gunships. The SFF itself would be converted into a police force after it surrendered all its landmines, grenades and machine guns. They could keep their rifles.
And would the Tawan army leave Seedaland entirely?
Of course! Entirely! Except for a tiny garrison in a small corner of Eko. Otherwise the Keenda fanatics in Hepara would scream blue murder. Surely the SFF would understand?
No they did not. Seedaland was going to be autonomous, wasn’t it?
Yes, but it would still be a part of Tawa.
Judy was snoring in her sleep. Mash groaned aloud. The government had taken the most reasonable position possible. If the Seedas genuinely wanted peace, they would agree. If they did not, then God help Tawa. They could all go back to civil war. The Seedas would be the biggest losers. Couldn’t Hanoleeyan see that? If they didn’t agree to a permanent peace treaty, there would be no foreign investments. If there were no foreign investments, Mash would have to rule over a decaying third world country till the next elections. Would he win the next round of elections if he did not bring about any substantial change? He might. After all, he was Seleem Zoloda’s only son. It was also possible that the TFP would lose the next round of elections. If the TFP were to lose, would he stay on in Tawa as the head of the opposition? Of course he would. He had come back for good. Not that he had a choice. It was not possible for the ex-Prime Minister of Tawa to go back to Halboroughs hat in hand and ask for a job, was it?
Mash had a tough time going back to sleep. The next day Mash went to the central secretariat building as usual. The negotiations were being held in the Hepara Bay Hotel where Rhymala and her assistant stayed. Nedeem would call Mash every hour or so to update him. When the phone rang at half past eleven, Nedeem reported that the negotiations were still at an impasse. However, he was still optimistic. Rhymala had a very patient look on her face. Nedeem was sure that Hanoleeyan had instructed her to play tough for a few days before they started to make concessions. But Mash could not contain his frustration any more.
‘Nedeem, do you know what happened last night? The American Ambassador called me. Bendron Corp – it is one of the largest companies in the world – well, Bendron Corp has plans to revive the Quaree River Project. A dam and an aluminium plant! Do you know what that sort of investment can do for Tawa’s profile? If only these bastards would agree to a deal, we can get people to invest in this country. But why on earth would those fools understand all this?’
‘But Maheshdas-raan, we ought to use this to our advantage,’ Nedeem expostulated. With your permission, let me disclose to Rhymala the possibility of Bendron Corp’s investment in the Quaree River project. Let me tell them that there will be thousands of jobs created in the Central Hill District while the dam is being built. Let us promise the SFF that we will make sure the aluminium smelter is built in the foothills of the central highlands so that Seedas would benefit from the jobs that would be created. I am sure that at least two thousand permanent jobs will be created. Isn’t that right Maheshdas-raan? Won’t there be at least two thousand jobs?’
‘I don’t think you can make such promises. Bendron Corp has only floated a proposal. There is no guarantee that they will actually make the investment. And I have no idea about the number of jobs that will be created’
‘That’s fine Maheshdas-raan. Let’s tell them that if the investment is actually made, at least a thousand Seedas will get permanent jobs in the smelter. We’ll make sure that anyone recommended by Hanoleeyan will get a job.’
‘But I have no idea how many jobs will be created. And Bendron may not want to build the smelter by the foothills. In fact, they are very likely to want the smelter to be close to the coast so that they can easily ship the aluminium to where ever they want.’
‘That’s fine Maheshdas-raan. It is only a promise. I mean, we only promise to do our best to ensure that the smelter is inside Seedaland.’
‘Nedeem, I’m pretty sure that we will make many Keendas unhappy if we try to build an aluminium plant inside Seedaland. Ultimately, it is the Keendas who decide who wins the next elections.’
‘Maheshdas-raan, please let me make this offer to Rhymala-ree. We’ll deal with everything else later.’
‘Nedeem, if we make a promise, I want to make sure it is honoured. And so …’
‘Maheshdas-raan, let’s focus on getting a peace deal signed. Can’t everything else wait?’
‘Nedeem, I want a cabinet meeting today evening. Please carry on negotiating with Rhymala. Tonight, I will explain to the cabinet what I propose to do. If everyone agrees, we can make this offer to the SFF. Is that clear?’
‘Okay Maheshdas-raan. I am sure we can wait for another day. If you like, I can call up Dimanan, Peelee-raan, Vikan and if you like, Horan-raan and explain everything to them over the phone and …’
‘If you don’t mind Nedeem, let’s do this my way, okay?’
Mash had a feeling that he was walking on the edge. It was so tempting to offer to have the aluminium smelter inside Seedaland so that some of the jobs would go to the Seedas. God knew that creating prosperity was the best way of bringing peace. But things were not so simple. Brendon Corp might finally decide not to make the investment. Even if they decided to do so, they might not want to locate the aluminium plant inside Seedaland. Even if Brendon Corp agreed to locate the smelter inside Seedaland, it would end up making the common Keenda on the street angry.
Mash was exhausted. There were so many decisions to be made. Tawa’s Independence Day was coming up in a week’s time. It was traditionally celebrated with military parades which showed off Tawa’s military might. Mash had suggested to his colleagues that the military parade be dispensed with in favour of something more peaceful. Such as a display of fireworks and marches by school children. Look at the USA or the UK. They don’t have huge military parades. Only military dictatorships and communist countries do that to keep their people in fear. But his proposal had not found favour with his ministers. Our people look forward to the military display, he was told. We need to scare the people a bit, Horan had added. Otherwise they would not respect the state. Mash did not try to push his idea forward. It was too revolutionary for Tawa. Maybe in ten years time, when it was much more prosperous, he would do try making this reform.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was about to retire and a new Chief Justice had to be appointed. According to the rules, the Chief Justice was to be appointed on the basis of seniority. But the senior-most judge who ought to be made Chief Justice had been appointed by General Naranin. Both Nedeem and the minister for judiciary and legal affairs were in favour of superseding General Naranin’s man and appointing the person next in line, who was a card carrying member of the TFP. There is no hard and fast rule that the Chief Justice has to be the senior most person, the Minister for Legal Affairs had argued. Nedeem had supported him. We just cannot afford to have XYZ as the Chief Justice, the Minister for Judiciary and Legal Affairs declared. On the other hand, our man, ABC, will make a splendid Chief Justice.
Mash decided to go home and have lunch with Judy. It had been a long time since he had spent some time with her. On the way, he ordered the driver to stop the car at a florist and went out and got a dozen roses. He had been neglecting his wife of late and it was time to make amends. Also, for some reason, Mash felt the urge to celebrate. Celebrate? What was there to celebrate? He was yet to get his peace treaty. The CEO of Bendron Corp was only considering an investment. No firm decision had been made yet. As an ex-tax advisor, Mash knew only too well how many investment proposals failed to see the light of the day.
A procession of people carrying placards and banners were being held back by the police in order to allow his car to pass. A few Sages in white robes were leading the procession. Stop all negotiations with the SFF! SFF is evil! Give the army a free hand! Rhymala should be hanged! Hanoleeyan must be burnt alive! the banners proclaimed. Mash rolled down his window so that he could hear them. Seeing Mash’s window rolled down, the protestors started to shout at the top of their voices. Mash sighed. These protestors were not the rent-me-for-a-day-to-protest-as-you-like kind. They were die-hard Keenda fanatics and would settle for nothing short of total victory over the SFF. Every country had its share of fanatics. Every religion had its share of fundamentalists. Even a religion as benign as Deelahee!
When he got home, Judy was watching Friends on the VCD player. When she got back from her visit to the UK, she had brought her shopping back with her in six huge suitcases. The collection of Friends episodes had also found a place in one of the suitcases. Mash waited for Judy to switch off the TV and greet him, but she didn’t.
‘Honey,’ Mash said.
‘Just a minute. Let me finish this bit.’ A full five minutes later, Judy switched off the TV and turned to Mash.
‘You shouldn’t have bothered to get me the flowers,’ Judy said as she took the flowers from Mash and held them carelessly in one hand.
‘Judy, what’s wrong?’
‘What do you mean nothing?’
‘Well, you’ve been busy.’ Tears sprang to Judy’s eyes. Mash’s irritation vanished.
‘Hush darling! What’s wrong?’
‘I just felt so lonely. You’ve been so preoccupied.’
‘Darling, I’m so sorry. There have been so many things happening.’
‘We used to discuss everything earlier. Now, you hardly speak to me.’ Mash could not deny this. He had stopped explaining things to Judy. This was mainly because Judy had so much trouble understanding Tawa or its politics. And it took so much effort to explain the nuances of Tawan politics to her. Mash started to feel irritated once more. He was working hard and this was how he was being treated. Judy did not have to do an iota of work. She could at least appreciate that he was working very hard.
‘I’m so sorry honey. I didn’t realise we had stopped talking.’ Mash hugged Judy tightly. Judy smiled through her tears.
‘It’s okay darling. It’s my fault as well. You’ve been working so hard.’
‘I love you honey!’
After a few minutes, Judy disengaged and told Mash, ‘you don’t know what I am planning to do.’
‘What are you planning to do?’
‘Hmm. You are planning to learn to scuba dive.’
‘No. Of course not. I would be scared to death. I am planning to dye my hair!’
‘Dye your hair? Why do you have to dye your hair?’ Even as he said that Mash looked at Judy’s hair. It had a few white streaks here and there, maybe a dozen stands more than he remembered.
‘May be I should dye my hair as well. We should both look as if we are in our mid-thirties!’ Mash did not really have any grey hair.
‘You could go in for hair weaving. So that you lose that balding look.’
‘You crazy? In this country, politicians desperately try to look older than they are. I ought to remove some hair from my head and colour the rest of my hair white!’
‘You are losing hair so fast. At this rate, you will soon be bald.’ Mash looked into the mirror close by. It was true that his hair had become thinner and his hair line had receded a bit. But there was no reason to panic. Other than the fact that he had gained some weight, he did not see any reason to improve his appearance.
‘We both need to lose some weight,’ he told Judy who had put on a lot more weight than Mash.
Judy burst into tears once again. ‘You don’t find me attractive anymore,’ she accused Mash through her tears.
Continued to Next Page