The Prime Minister of Tawa – 51
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Rhymala took a phone call from an irate Hanoleeyan. Hanoleeyan was quite angry. ‘You’ve caused so much trouble! I have a dozen villagers waiting to see me.’
‘What villagers?’ Rhymala asked bemused. Then it had sunk in.
‘Villagers from the blasted villages that are to be submerged. They are waiting outside my gate. What am I supposed to tell them? Do you think I have acres of land which I can allot to them just like that? If only you hadn’t educated them, they wouldn’t be here. But no, you had to go to the site of the dam, find out which villages are to be submerged, tell the villagers all about their rights and get the villagers to come here and ask me where they will be relocated to and when!’
‘I didn’t expect them to turn up in Eko,’ Rhymala had protested.
‘What am I supposed to do?’ Hanoleeyan repeated.
‘You don’t have to meet them. Keep them there. I’ll come there and talk to them.’
Rhymala drove over to Hanoleeyan’s house. The villagers were standing outside the gate. The chief of each village had come along with one or two other men. Five strong old men with stout staffs in their hands and dust all over their clothes. And seven other men with even stouter staffs and even more dust covering them.
‘You’ve come to the wrong place. This is the Big Chief’s house. You need to go to his office.’
‘We did go to his office. They said he is at his house.’
‘Yes, that’s true. But you need to speak with someone in his office who is in charge of your matter.’
‘Who is in charge of our matter?’
‘I’ll take you to that minister,’ Rhymala said. ‘Follow me.’
‘No, no. We need to talk to the Big Chief. We will not leave till we meet him. We supported his boys when they fought the Keendas. Now, we are entitled to talk to him.’
‘The Big Chief is busy. He cannot talk to you.’
‘We will wait here till he comes out.’ Rhymala knew that they were capable of doing that. They were patient villagers for whom the loss of an extra day was not a catastrophe. Even if they went back to their village a day later, the sun would still shine and the monsoon rains would still water their fields.
Finally she had persuaded them to walk back to the Secretariat with her. It was a long walk, with Rhymala in the lead and a dozen suspicious villagers following her. Rhymala’s car followed slowly behind the entire procession. It took them twenty minutes to get to the Secretariat. Once they reached the Secretariat building, Rhymala bade the chiefs make their men wait outside, while she took them inside. Rhymala gave the chiefs a guided tour. ‘This is where this minister sits. This is where that minister sits. This is where I work. And this is where the Economic Affairs Minister works.’ The Economic Affairs Minister was not at his desk.
‘Wait here till the minister comes back and talk to him. But don’t expect anything immediately. Maybe you can come and see the minister after a few months.’ She had left them there. On her way out, she spoke to a bureaucrat whom she knew slightly.
‘Any idea if the ministry has decided where to resettle these people?’
‘How can we resettle them till we get paid for that?’
‘When do we get paid?’
‘We are not going to get paid. The Keendas are refusing to pay us the money it takes to resettle the villagers.’
‘How can they do that? They promised to pay us the money for resettlement, didn’t they?’
‘They say that they are paying us twenty percent of their budget. We contribute almost nothing by way of taxes. The least we can do is to resettle our own people.’
‘But that’s not what was agreed.’
‘We have nothing in writing, do we?’
‘No, we don’t. The agreement about the dam and the factory was not put into writing. An agreement between gentlemen, Maheshdas Zoloda had told out Big Chief.’
This is going to lead to even more trouble, Rhymala told herself as she walked away.
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