The Prime Minister of Tawa — 31
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The whole of Hepara came to a standstill when Hanoleeyan arrived for the signing ceremony. It had taken two months of solid negotiations from the time Rhymala arrived in Hepara before a treaty could be drawn up. Even the promise of locating the aluminium smelter in Seedaland and splitting the jobs between Seedas and Keendas equally had not persuaded Hanoleeyan to drop his demand for abolition of the monarchy and the right to call himself the President of Seedaland. Finally, Mash had to hike the amount of money the autonomous council of Seedaland would get to spend by five percent. Instead of fifteen percent of the budget, the Seedas would now get twenty percent. Which was not really fair to the people in the rest of the country since common expenses towards defence, maintenance of the royal household, embassies etc. had to be met from the balance eighty percent. But putting more money on the table had worked. The SFF agreed that Hanoleeyan would be called the First Minister of Seedaland. He would head the autonomous council of Seedaland for a year after which elections would be held. And the SFF would tolerate a small garrison of five hundred Tawan soldiers permanently stationed in Eko.
It seemed that everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of one-eyed Hanoleeyan. The signing ceremony was telecast live on Beemava TV. Mash made sure that all the four TFP MPs from the Central Hill District were present for the ceremony. Nedeem had argued that since the MPs were unwilling to negotiate on behalf of the government, they should have no place in the limelight. Mash had overruled him. They are our MPs. Don’t you want them to stand for elections again on our behalf and win, he had demanded of Nedeem. After the ceremony was over, Mash and Hanoleeyan mounted an open jeep and travelled down the Mall, in the heart of downtown Hepara. Seedas and Keendas crowded into the Mall in order to catch a glimpse of the legendary Hanoleeyan. A few people tried to protest, but they were ushered away by the police.
‘Do you remember Hepara at all? You have lived in this city, haven’t you?’ Mash asked Hanoleeyan in Keenda. He had to shout to be heard above the din made by the cheering crowd. Hanoleeyan had discarded his combat fatigues and was wearing a starched white kiree and white sarong. With his tall, lean and ramrod erect frame and one-eye, Hanoleeyan managed to exude the air of an ascetic. Very unlike Mash who had a corporate air about him even though he too wore a light blue kiree and white sarong.
Hanoleeyan hesitated for a moment and then responded in Keenda. ‘Yes, when I was in the army, I was posted here for a year.’ Until the negotiations were complete, neither Rhymala nor her assistant would speak in Keenda and they had been forced to provide an interpreter. After the negotiations were over and the treaty was signed, they had dispensed with the interpreter and started to speak in Keenda. Seeda and Keenda are derived from the same root language and have a lot in common. However, the Seeda spoken by a Seeda from the Central Hill District is practically unintelligible to a Keenda.
‘Have things changed much Hanoleeyan-raan?’
‘No, they haven’t. You know, when my father was in the army, he came to Hepara once and walked down this Mall. He could do that since he wore his army uniform. But in those days before independence only those wearing western clothes could enter the Mall. If you wore a sarong or kiree or doree, you would be chased away.’
‘I know, I have heard of that. We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?’
After a moment’s silence, Hanoleeyan asked Mash, ‘Maheshdas-raan, tell me honestly, what are the chances of this American company setting up that aluminium factory in Seedaland?’
‘I would say that there is a fifty percent chance that the Americans will actually make that investment. If they do, then we will do our best to ensure that the aluminium smelter is located inside the Central Hill District. Somewhere on the border so that Seedas and Keendas can work there.’
‘And you don’t think your people will object?’
‘Hanoleeyan-raan, the Seedas are my people as well! No, I don’t think the Keendas will object. As long as this treaty brings prosperity to Tawa, why would anyone object?’
‘The people getting displaced will object, won’t they?’ Hanoleeyan had a sly smile on his face.
‘I am going to depend on you to handle that fall-out. We’ll make sure the displaced people are properly compensated. I can’t see any reason why things should go wrong?’
‘In that case, why did you insist that this part of the treaty cannot be made public? Why was it omitted from the written agreement?’
‘Well, you know, at this stage when Brendon has not made a formal commitment, how can we say that the aluminium smelter will be inside Seedaland? Also, the people here are not yet fully aware of the benefits of peace, we thought that it is too early to tell them that half the jobs will go to ….’ They had reached the end of the mall. Mash and Hanoleeyan dismounted from the open jeep and got into a car which was to take them to the central secretariat for a joint press conference.
After they got into the car, Mash continued, ‘as I was saying, we are confident that we can deliver on this promise. And we are ready for trouble if it arises.’
Hanoleeyan changed the topic. ‘Maheshdas-raan, tell me, why didn’t you come back to Tawa as soon as General Naranin fled? What took you so long to come back?’
Mash realised that his standard reply would not fool Hanoleeyan. ‘I just couldn’t come back Hanoleeyan-raan. I just couldn’t.’ Hanoleeyan gave a sympathetic shrug.
‘If you had come back, you could have hanged General Naranin. You lost a great opportunity.’
‘I doubt it Hanoleeyan-raan. If he could have been held to account, Horan-raan would have done that.’
‘You think so?’
‘Of course, they would have done that. There was no love lost for General Naranin.’
‘Is he still in Switzerland?’
‘Yes, he is. Unfortunately, he is.’
‘We both have that in common Maheshdas-raan. We both hate the Tawan army.’
‘I don’t hate the Tawan army. Not anymore.’ This wasn’t actually true. He hated everyone who wore the Tawan army uniform. He hated them more than he hated the SFF. Actually, he did not hate the SFF at all. They had never harmed him.
‘You should, Maheshdas-raan. You are entitled to hate the people who harmed you. Or your family. And you ought to be more careful as well. Please don’t make the mistake your father did.’
‘Don’t worry Hanoleeyan-raan. The army is no longer dangerous. Neither to the Seedas, nor to me.’ Even as he said that Mash realised that he could be totally wrong. He shivered, even though the sun was shining brightly.
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