The Prime Minister of Tawa – 45
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Mash leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. His plans would have to be postponed till this scandal died down. Just when everything was starting to go well! The construction of the dam had started. The Seedas were keeping quiet. The banks and the insurance company had been sold off and the factories and plantations were being given back to their real owners. And Mash had been all set to implement his dream of extraditing General Naranin from Switzerland. Urush and Sulawa were the only ones who knew what Mash had in mind. Loyal Urush! He had done so much for Mash. As for Sulawa, she liked to listen to Mash’s talk. He could use her as a sounding board. She rarely expressed an opinion on anything he said. She accepted him exactly as he was. If only he had tried to tell Judy about his plans to extradite General Naranin, she would have asked him a thousand questions and raised a dozen stupid objections.
If it were acceptable for a Tawan politician to divorce his wife, he would have divorced Judy and sent her back to the UK ages ago. He would not even have minded paying her a few thousand quid every month to keep her quiet. He could have got a few businessmen to pay her the money. So many people he knew would have come forward to do him that favour.
Mash’s plan for extraditing General Naranin was very simple. First, he would fire the attorney general and replace him with one Ibraheem Shimanee, a distant cousin of Urushambo. Having prepared the ground, he would ask the new attorney general to issue a statement to the effect that the assurance given by Horan Samiban’s interim government to the Swiss government was invalid. How on earth did Horan Samiban get the right to tell the Swiss government that the Tawan government did not have any charges against General Naranin? That General Naranin was free to go where he liked? If Horan Samiban had not given that assurance, the Swiss would not have taken him in. Urushambo was sure that Ibraheem Shimanee would do as he was told even after he was made attorney general. If not, he could be replaced. After the attorney general made that statement, Mash would request the Swiss government to send General Naranin back to Tawa. If it helped, he would promise them that Swiss corporations would get preference when the next big business opportunity came up. Now that Bendron Corp had successfully started the construction of the dam, Tawa was a much more attractive place to invest, wasn’t it? Yes, he would get Swiss companies to lobby their government for him.
But now, he would have to wait. But wait he would. He had waited for so long. He could wait for a few more months. He tried calling Vikan once more. This time Vikan answered the phone.
‘Where are you Vikan, he asked?’
‘Maheshdas-raan, I am at Tricombee.’ Tricombee was the main town in Vikan’s constituency, in south eastern Tawa.
‘Have you read today’s Hepara Herald?’
‘No Maheshdas-raan. I just got your message, Maheshdas-raan. I’m afraid the Hepara Herald is not sold in this part of Tawa, Maheshdas-raan. The mobile reception here is so bad, you won’t believe it. I’ve been trying to call Kamel-raan, but his phone has been constantly busy.’
‘I think he’s been trying to call up people to arrange today evening’s meeting. Next time you get my message, you call me back. Don’t call Kamel, okay?’
‘Okay Maheshdas-raan,’ Vikan agreed meekly.
‘And can you come here a bit earlier than four? I would like to discuss something with you.’ Tricombee was a three hour drive away. It was twelve thirty now. If Vikan started to drive back,
‘I can do that Maheshdas-raan. Definitely.’
Vikan was a fool, Mash thought. There were times when his actions were so silly. It wasn’t as if he had never called Mash on his mobile. But at least he was polite and differential, unlike Horan and Peelee.
Just after one in the afternoon, Dimanan walked into Mash’s office without any warning. Kamel followed him and said, Maheshdas-raan, I told Dimanan-raan that you wanted to be alone.’
‘That’s okay. I wanted to talk to him as well.’
Before Kamel could leave the room, Dimanan fell at Mash’s feet. ‘Maheshdas-raan, I made a mistake.’ Dimanan looked so silly lying at Mash’s feet, with all his bulk and so much grey hair.
Mash felt sorry for him. Dimanan had always been a loyal minister. He waited till Kamel left the room and then he asked, ‘Is there any way out of this mess Dimanan?’
‘I don’t think so Maheshdas-raan. At least, I can’t think of any.’ The man was in tears. It was quite possible that he was close to a breakdown.
‘Can’t we just deny this report?’
‘I don’t know Maheshdas-raan. I guess we could.’ Dimanan said doubtfully
‘The news report says that this Philip Zheng paid you one million puvees. How did he pay you the money?
‘In cash. He came to my house and gave me a suitcase.’
‘And why did he come to your house and pay you in cash? Why didn’t he pay into our party’s account?’
Dimanan was silent.
‘So, why don’t you just deny it? Just say that you’ve never met him. It’s just your word against his.”
Dimanan brightened up. ‘You mean, I just deny it and people will believe me?’
‘I don’t know. Did Philip Zheng submit the highest bid?’
‘No, he didn’t. His bid was the third highest and it just a fraction less than the first two bids.’
‘So can’t we say that Philip Zheng is a more reliable supplier than the other two? The best bid does not have to be the highest.’
‘We can do that Maheshdas-raan,’ Dimanan whispered like a dying man who’d been offered a second chance to live.
‘And Hepara Herald has not really offered any proof, has it? It’s just a bunch of allegations, isn’t that right?’
Dimanan who brightened up considerably said, ‘yes Maheshdas-raan. It’s just a bunch of allegations. They haven’t offered any real proof at all.’
‘How do you think they got to know of this? The ones who submitted the higher bids must have told them, right?’
‘I doubt it Maheshdas-raan. Chinese businessmen rarely do that.’
‘Then who do you think sang to this bloody newspaper?’
‘I’ve no idea Maheshdas-raan.’
Dimanan looked as if he might slump to the floor. ‘Why don’t you go home and take some rest?’ Mash told him.
‘It’s now one fifteen,’ Mash said looking at his watch. ‘Go home, get some rest and come back at four. Okay?’
‘Okay Maheshdas-raan,’ he muttered and left.
Vikan made it to Mash’s office twenty minutes before the ministerial meeting was about to start.
‘Vikan-raan, tell me, what do you think I should do? Should I fire Dimanan or should I keep him in the cabinet?’
‘I think you should keep him in the cabinet. He made one mistake and ought to be given another chance.’
‘That’s what I too feel, But if I …’
‘I think you should give him another chance. What’s the big deal? We’ve all been taking money from corrupt businessmen so that we come back to power the next term. So that we do not let those PDA bastards come back to power. What’s really wrong with that?’
‘Nothing. Except that I’m pretty sure that Dimanan took money for himself. He did not pay the money into our party’s account.’
‘I’m sure Dimanan-raan did not do anything of that sort. I’m, sure he meant to pay the money into the party account sooner than later.’
‘No. I don’t think so. You see, he almost confessed that he took the money for himself.’
‘Even so Maheshdas-raan.’ Vikan hesitated for a moment. Then he went on. ‘Even so Maheshdas-raan, we should give him another chance. He’s a good man, Dimanan-raan.’
‘But if I give him another chance, then if someone else gets caught, won’t they also ask for a second chance?’
‘Well, they might.’ Vikan scratched his head.
‘You see Vikan, it’s all about setting rules and standards. In a world where nothing is black and white, we need to have rules for everything. And we need to stick by those rules.’
‘I agree Maheshdas-raan.’
‘You don’t understand Vikan. Dimanan and you are the only loyal people I have in my cabinet.’
‘Nedeem-raan is also loyal to you, Maheshdas-raan. He doesn’t like Horan-raan at all.’
‘Well he is loyal. And I know that Horan had cut him down to size before I arrived. But for some reason, he has a rapport with Horan and Peelee which I can’t understand. Maybe not a rapport, but a sort of silent understanding which I cannot fathom. I just don’t trust him as much as I trust you both.’
‘I agree Maheshdas-raan. Nedeem-raan is a good man. But there are certain things about him which I do not understand.’
Mash nodded. ‘I think I’ll retain Dimanan, come what may.’
‘I agree Maheshdas-raan. Dimanan-raan is a good man. We need him with us.’
‘You agree, don’t you?’
‘Of course I do.’
‘We’ll survive this Vikan. Trust me, we’ll survive this. I’ve survived worse things you know.’
Vikan was silent, but the curiosity on his face was all too evident.
‘My father was murdered when I was only fifteen. Ever since then, I’ve been plotting my return to Tawa.’
Vikan drew a deep breath.
‘You’ve done it so very well, Maheshdas-raan. You’ve come back to this country and you’ve done so very well.’
‘But I still have enemies, Vikan.’
‘You also have friends, Maheshdas-raan. Your friends may not be the most powerful people in the world. But they are loyal and will sacrifice everything they have for you.’
‘That’s all I ask for. With you and Dimanan and Urush by my side, I’ll survive. I’ve survived worse.’
‘I know you have Maheshdas-raan.’
When Mash and Vikan got to the meeting room at ten past four, only a handful of ministers were present. Even Dimanan had not turned up.
‘I wonder when everyone in Tawa will learn to be punctual,’ Mash wondered aloud. Vikan looked down with embarrassment as did the other ministers.
‘When I worked in London, if we scheduled a meeting at four, everyone would turn up a couple of minutes before four and the meeting would start at four. On the dot. Now thanks to the fact that you devils ….’ Mash grinned affectionately at Vikan and the others at this and continued ‘…. you devils are not punctual, I’m too have stopped being punctual.’
Which was true. Mash was rarely on time for anything these days. It was not anybody’s specific fault. In general, no one really minded if things didn’t start on time or if one failed to adhere to a schedule. A man who was late was rarely berated. And since Mash’s activities were dependent on a lot of other people, he himself was late on many occasions. But today evening, Mash wished the ministers would be on time. He did not want to be late for Heather’s school play. He had promised Heather that he would be at her school by five fifteen so that he was in good time for the start of the play. It was a Keenda play and Heather had put in a lot of effort to learn her part in Keenda.
‘Vikan, any idea where Dimanan is? Can you try and call him?’ Mash asked. He then called up Kamel using his phone and asked him to find Dimanan.
‘We can start the meeting as soon as Dimanan gets here. I don’t care if others don’t make it on time,’ Mash said, more to himself than to Vikan or any of the other ministers present.
Vikan did not seem to have any luck in getting Dimanan on his mobile. Five minutes later, Kamel called up Mash and told him that Dimanan was not answering his mobile phone. No one was picking up Dimanan’s home phone either. Just before four thirty, Peelee and a handful of ministers arrived. It was almost five when Dimanan made his appearance, looking dishevelled and downcast. He shuffled into the room and sat with his head down, not looking at anyone.
Mash promptly started the meeting. If only he could leave by five thirty, he could get to Heather’s school by six. The play was supposed to be an hour long. Mash hoped that the play would not start on time.
‘I’m sure you’ve all seen this,’ Mash said waving a copy of the Hepara Herald.
Some of the ministers nodded. Others murmured.
‘Well, when I agreed to allow you to collect money for the party’s funds, I did not expect you to take money for yourselves. But you have been doing it. Most of you anyway.’
‘What makes you say that Maheshdas-raan?’ Peelee challenged him.
Mash was discomfited for a second. ‘I don’t want to point fingers at any one. This meeting is not meant for that. But one of you got caught with his fingers in the jam jar.’
There was silence. Dimanan continued to stare at the floor.
‘But I feel that everyone is entitled to make one mistake. I’m going to forgive Dimanan-raan this time. But if ever anyone else is found to have accepted a bribe for himself, I’ll drop that person from my ministry.’
Peelee was quick to pounce on Mash. ‘So, if I get caught hereafter for accepting a bribe, I won’t get the second chance which Dimanan-raan is getting. I’ll be dropped from my ministerial post. But this honourable Dimanan-raan is going to get a second chance, is that right?’
‘Yes, it is. Basically, it’s a warning for all of you.’
‘Why should it be a warning for all of us?’
‘Because I know that most of you have been taking personal bribes.’
‘But that’s not the way things work Maheshdas-raan. The rule is, whoever gets caught gets punished. This time Dimanan-raan has been caught and he should get punished. Why shouldn’t he be dropped from the cabinet right away?’
‘Because I’m going to give him another chance.’
‘Why should he be given another chance?’
‘Because I want to. I’m the Prime Minister.’
Peelee was silent. ‘I understand now Maheshdas-raan. That’s a very sensible reason. You’re the Prime Minister and you want to give Dimanan-raan another chance. That’s very sensible. But if I get caught, I may not get a second chance.’
‘Henceforth, no one else will get a second chance, is that understood?’
No one responded to Mash’s challenge. Peelee looked away into the distance with a smile on his face.
‘So, are we going to deny the Hepara Herald report?’ the education minister wanted to know.
‘Absolutely. There is no truth in that report. Hepara Herald has not offered any proof. I’m going to challenge them to produce proof. If they prove that Dimanan-raan took money from this Philip Zheng, then I’ll drop Dimanan from the cabinet.’
‘We’ll have some fun in Parliament when it opens next week,’ someone said.
‘What can they do?’ Dimanan asked, having regained some of his composure, though he still looked sheepish. The TFP dominated all Parliament sessions with its fifty five seats out of the total sixty seats. The opposition could not do much more than make a lot of noise.
‘We should do something to Hepara Herald. Find out who gave them this information,’ Dimanan added.
‘It’s tempting, but I don’t think we should do that,’ Peelee said. ‘It’ll look bad if word gets out that we are trying to get even with a newspaper.’
‘I agree with Peelee-raan,’ Mash said. ‘We should not be accused of harassing a newspaper just because they wrote something we did not like. We’ll look really bad if we do that.’
‘But I am not going to let them get away with this. They nearly ruined my political career. If Maheshdas-raan weren’t so benevolent, I would be without a ministry tomorrow.’
‘You’ve done enough damage, you bastard,’ Peelee burst out.
‘I know what you’ve been up to,’ Dimanan accused Peelee.
‘What have I been up to?’ Peelee challenged him. It increasingly looked like a spat between two school children. Mash was tempted to ask them to shut, but he was intrigued as well.
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