The Prime Minister of Tawa – 41
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If Mash hoped that Clare Ferguson would be more palatable once the deal was agreed upon, he was mistaken. As soon as Clare reached the central secretariat and shook hands with Mash, she asked ‘do you have intelligence reports of any possible trouble once this is announced?’
‘No. And we are not expecting any trouble.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘One can never be sure of these things.’
‘We are making the announcement tomorrow, aren’t we?’
‘Yes, we sign and announce tomorrow. That’s the plan.’
‘I can’t believe that there won’t be any protests.’
‘Why shouldn’t anyone protest?’
‘You never know. The opposition parties here may use this as an excuse to start something. Once the people who are to be displaced get to know, they will protest. I’ve never heard of a dam being built without the displaced people protesting about it.’
‘This deal is good for Tawa. The opposition will look stupid, if they protest. As for the people about to be displaced, the ones from those five villages, by the time they get to hear of it and protest, you’ll be far away. And they are all Seedas. The SFF is very keen on this dam. So, they’ll take care of any Seeda protests.’
‘I hope so. Anyway, why am I worrying unnecessarily? Security is your responsibility, isn’t it?’ Clare gave Mash a smug smile.
The next day Clare arrived at the secretariat building wearing the Tawan national dress – a doree, sarong and a thuli. After a great deal of indecision, Mash had discarded his kiree and sarong in favour of a western suit. Last time he had left so inadequate in his kiree and sarong when facing Clare who was dressed in a skirt and stockings. This time, he felt even worse – overdressed as he was, in his suit and tie.
The contract was signed in front of a dozen journalists and cameramen from Beemava TV. One of them, a grizzled veteran promptly asked, ‘Prime Minister-raan, isn’t the price of four puvees per unit too high? Didn’t Seleem-raan turn down a similar project by a Dutch company many years ago saying the price was too high? At that time, it was one puvee for the electricity supplied to the smelter and three puvees for the excess electricity purchased by the government, wasn’t it? Why are things different now?’
‘I have considered all these factors, and this is a good deal for this country. This investment by Brendon Corp will kick-start other investments. In these circumstances, this is the best.’ he was going to say ‘the best deal we could have got.’ He changed his mind and said ‘a fair deal for both parties.’
The veteran journalist would not let go. ‘Are the circumstances a lot different from the time your father turned down that Dutch proposal? Are we in the same position after forty-six years of independence? Or are we in a worse position?’
‘We’ve had twenty-two years of military rule. And ever since civilian rule was restored in 1996, this is the first major foreign investment we’ve had. We’ve taken all these factors into account before we decided to go ahead.’
Clare nodded wisely at Mash’s response, but after the conference was over, she cornered Mash once more. ‘If newspapers report that this is a bad deal for Tawa, there could be trouble. Are you ready to handle it?’
‘We will handle any trouble,’ Mash reassured her once more, but he was not too sure.
‘I guess you’ll have to answer a lot of questions in Parliament.’
‘The parliament is not in session till July. That’s two months away. By that time the PDA will have forgotten about this.’
The next day all the newspapers reported the deal as headline news. All newspapers except one were in favour of the deal. Hepara Herald went so far as to praise Mash for his farsightedness in having the aluminium factory inside Seedaland. The paper which took the stand that it was a bad deal for Tawa accused Mash of paying too high a price for the electricity. The rest of the newspapers agreed with Mash’s statement that in the given circumstances, it was the best deal Tawa could get.
Another day later, the PDA and the CPT came up with statements condemning the deal as too much unfair and lopsided. The government was going to pay too much for the electricity and the aluminium factory would pay too little. Also, it was unfair to locate the aluminium factory inside Seedaland. Blatant appeasement of the Seedas! Protests and street demonstrations would follow, the PDA’s statement promised.
The CPT too condemned the deal. “We will not let an MNC steal our country’s assets,” the CPT communiqué announced.
‘What do we do now?’ Mash wondered at the cabinet meeting he convened immediately.
‘Let’s launch our own publicity blitz,’ Dimanan suggested. ‘Let’s tell the people what we are doing.’
‘Let’s place a few ads in newspapers. Let’s have Beemava run a programme showing the benefits which this project will bring.’
‘What do we have to lose? Let’s do it. I hope no one’s funding the PDA this time.’ Mash said.
That afternoon, Mash ran into Horan at the TFP office where they were to attend a party meeting.
‘Alakom. How are you Horan-raan?’
‘Alakom Maheshdas-raan. I ought to apologise to you.’
‘Why should you do that?’
‘I did not support you when you wanted to send our soldiers to Iraq.’
‘That’s okay Horan-raan. You were the only one who did not support me. Even Peelee-raan supported me.’
‘Well, now it’s turned out to be a good thing isn’t. We can puncture Kemon’s balloon easily, can’t we? Especially since’
Mash wasn’t too sure how he should reply. ‘I am not sure what the best way forward is,’ he said.
‘Oh! I’m sure a phone call will do. Ted Hoffman is very close to you, isn’t he?’
‘Hmmm’ Mash managed to keep his face thoughtful.
‘Of course, Ted-raan will have to help us if you were to ask him. Now that our soldiers are there. And we don’t really need their help in curbing the SFF anymore, do we?’
‘No, that’s right.’
‘I think Kemon-raan’s grandson passes out of Harvard in a year’s time. So, a phone call from Ted-raan to Kemon-raan should do the trick.’
Mash breathed more easily. ‘Yeah, but I don’t really want to ask Ted for too many favours. For every favour asked, they’ll want something in return.’ That’s something you told me earlier. I did not appreciate it at that time.
‘But this is the best way to get the PDA to keep quiet. In my opinion, you should let the PDA protest for a day or so before you request Ted-raan to get them to shut up. I mean, they are the opposition. If they do not protest, what will the people think?’
‘Do you think the communists will stop protesting once the PDA end their agitation? This is something right up their street, isn’t it?’
‘It doesn’t really matter, does it? Look at it this way. The PDA and the CPT start off at the same time. A couple of days later, the PDA ends its protest. If the CPT were to continue on their own, they’ll look stupid.
Mash was silent for a minute. ‘Quite strange, isn’t it? General Naranin crushed the CPT many years ago. Now his own creation the PDA and the CPT are bedfellows!’ Mash said ruminatively.
‘Politics makes strange bedfellows, Maheshdas-raan. You know that as well as I do,’ Horan said by way of a parting shot as they entered the meeting room.
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