Chapter 69 - Making The Right Moves

The Prime Minister of Tawa – 69

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December brought two shocks in its wake. The first one affected all three of them – Mash, Judy and Heather. It came in the form of an article which Stephen Seymour wrote for the Independent Times. Before publishing the article, Stephen did call up Mash’s office, send across a copy of the piece he had written and formally ask if they disagreed with the story. ‘What’s up with Tawa?’ the article’s title said. It’s been three and a half years since Maheshdas Zoloda became the Prime Minister of Tawa. And nothing seems to have changed. The article went on to say that whatever minor achievements Mash had, had all come undone. A peace treaty had been signed with the SFF, but fighting had broken out again. Various government owned assets had been privatised, but the government seemed to have made very little money out of the process. In short, Mash was a failure as Prime Minister.

This article affected Judy and Heather a lot more than it affected Mash. For one, the Independent Times is freely available on the internet and hence Seymour’s article was read by a great many people all over the world. Heather’s friend LJ even emailed a link to that article to Heather. Was Heather alright? LJ was concerned for Heather after reading about Tawa’s misfortunes. Judy and Heather were supposed to make their annual trip to the UK that vacation, but they were so embarrassed by the article, that they went to Malaysia and Singapore instead. ‘There’s no way I can face my friends, Heather declared with a sniff.

After the article came out, Mash got the Department of Criminal Intelligence to carry out a quiet survey to find out where he stood on the popularity index. The results, when he got them, were not very good. There was one bit of good news. People still liked him as an individual. The Zoloda brand name still carried some weight. But the TFP itself wasn’t too popular. If his intelligence chaps were right, the TFP was not going to win more than thirty seats in the coming elections, which were now just seventeen months away. Even a simple majority in the sixty-seat parliament seemed unlikely.

Urushambo was the only person in Tawa outside the DCI to whom Mash confided the news. ‘You need to make peace with Horan and Peelee. You need those bastards. And they need you as well. Without you, the TFP will not win either.’

‘Like hell I will make peace with those bastards,’ Mash declared vehemently. They shook hands with my father’s killer.’ However, when he was on his own, he knew that he was at a dead end. If he lost the elections, could he go back to the UK? No, he could not. Could be stay on in Tawa? Of course, he could. Would be still be respected and honoured? He might just about survive. Would he be treated as a great leader? Would he be the leader of the opposition TFP? Was Horan or Peelee likely to stake a claim to head the TFP if it lost power? The idea of having to report to Horan was unbearable. And Kemon would be the Prime Minister. And who knew, General Naranin might even return to Tawa.

The second shock came in the form of the Tsunami. The west coast of Tawa was not affected at all. But the relatively less populated east coast suffered extensive damage. A couple of thousand fishermen living on the east coast were killed, most of them swallowed up by the ocean as they fished for their living. The half-built detention centres were entirely washed away by the twelve-metre-high waves that washed ashore. Since Tawa suffered a lot less damage than countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India, it didn’t get as much attention and aid as it ought to have received otherwise. A fortnight after the Tsunami, even the people in Hepara and the rest of the West Coast had started to forget the Tsunami. The Hepara Herald reported that a restaurant in Hepara was offering its customers Tsunami Prawn Rolls.  

Though the Tsunami seemed to have added to Mash’s troubles, it actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Urushambo and his consortium had taken out insurance on their buildings even as they were being built. Their insurance policy covered any loss on account of fire, flood or a tempest. But it did not cover any loss due to an earthquake. The insurance company, which was partly owned by Horan’s son and Peelee’s cousin took the view that the Tsunami was actually the result of an earthquake, and an insurance claim could be made only if the claimant had earthquake cover. Urushambo and his consortium did not agree. A fine fight started to brew. Urushambo’s consortium took the matter to court. It was at that time that Horan and Peelee approached Mash. They had an elder member from the House of Wong with them.

‘Maheshdas-raan, you know Urushambo very well. You know us well, though we cannot claim to be your friends. If you could.’

Mash did not let Horan continue with what he was saying. ‘How can you say that Horan-raan? You are one of my father’s closest friends. You are the General Secretary of our party. Of course, I’m your friend.’

Neither Horan nor Peelee could object to that statement. ‘Maheshdas-raan, if you could act as an intermediary and help us reach an out of court settlement, we’d be very grateful. Your friend Urushambo cannot really afford to go through many rounds of litigation. Neither can the insurance company in which we have some interest.’

‘What’s the claim amount Horan-raan?’

‘Urushambo-raan and his friends are asking for five hundred million puvees. They are saying that that’s the value of what they had built so far.’ Mash chuckled to himself. Horan and Peelee obviously did not want the insurance company to pay up such a large claim. The newly privatised company would go bust. Also, they most probably did not want the real shareholding structure of the insurance company to be made public. A prolonged court litigation was very likely to do just that.

‘How much do you think is the value of the buildings?’ Mash asked Mr. Wong.

‘Maheshdas-raan, we don’t think more than two hundred million puvees has been spent so far.’

‘And how much are you people willing to pay?’

‘The company is not liable to pay anything Maheshdas-raan. They do not have earthquake cover. But we are willing to pay, say, fifty million puvees. If only you could convince them to accept our offer.’

Mash agreed to do his best. The war with the Seedas was grinding on. Except for some periodic relief which Mash got by summoning Kubeda to his office, life was a dull chore.

‘Any ideas?’ he asked Dimanan.

‘Let’s consult Osirial-raan,’ Dimanan suggested.

‘He is bound to take Horan’s side. He is close to them. They are all General Naranin’s men.’

Dimanan did not agree. ‘Maheshdas-raan, Osirial-raan is a man of very strong opinions, very strong values. He liked General Naranin and would do anything for him. But he won’t tell a lie for Horan-raan’s sake. I think I understand Osirial-raan better than you do.’

Mash decided to give it a try. Though the government was not a party to the dispute between the insurance company and Urushambo’s consortium, the issues involved were a matter of national importance. Osirial Mennee took a couple of weeks to do his research and tell Mash that, in his opinion, a valid insurance claim would lie. Mash was surprised that Osirial had taken such a stand. ‘Basically Maheshdas-raan, when the waves came inland on account of the earthquake under the ocean, they caused a flood. So, if an insurance policy covers loss caused by either earthquake or flood, that should suffice to cover the loss caused on account of the Tsunami. In fact, if Tawa National Insurance has issued a similar policy to any other business which was affected, they should pay that business as well.’ Fortunately for Horan and Peelee, no one else on the east coast had the money to buy insurance from their company.

Armed with the Attorney General’s opinion, Mash delicately suggested to Horan and Peelee that their insurance company ought to pay up. ‘The company will pay up Maheshdas-raan. But please don’t force our company to pay five hundred million puvees. That’s all,’ Horan said.

‘Could your company pay two hundred million puvees?’

‘That’ll wipe our company off!’

Urushambo on the other hand said that his consortium had suffered a loss of five hundred million puvees. How could they settle for anything less than three hundred puvees?’

‘Come off it Urush. You people started building on that land sometime in August. How could you have spent so much money in five months’ time?’

Finally it was agreed that the insurance company should pay a hundred and fifty million puvees to Urushambo and his friends. After the deal was reached, Mash’s relations with Horan and Peelee thawed. And so when Urushambo once again suggested that Mash should offer to re-induct Horan and Peelee into the cabinet, Mash agreed.

‘Nedeem is no good at his job. Make Peelee the Interior and Defence Minister once more. Peelee has a good rapport with the generals. He’ll get them to perform better. And you ought to give something to Horan as well.’

But Mash was not prepared to give so much power to Peelee. Instead, he decided to split the Interior and Defence Ministry. He would ask Nedeem to continue as the Interior Minister, while Peelee would be the Defence Minister.’

‘Shouldn’t I make Horan the Defence Minister? After all, he has the best rapport with the generals?’

‘No. That’s too close for comfort. Don’t do that.’

Which meant that Mash was forced to expand his ministry in order to induct Horan. The Economic Affairs Ministry was split to create a Commerce Ministry and Finance Ministry. Dimanan was made the finance minister, whilst Horan was invited to become the new Commerce Minister. A non-descript MP was asked to take over from Horan as the party General Secretary.

Some of the newspapers objected to the cabinet expansion. What’s the big difference between Finance and Commerce? they wanted to know. One Keenda newspaper made a detailed list of the additional expenditure the two new ministries would entail. Two new imported cars for the ministers, both of whom were to be in the cabinet, car drivers, two new ministerial residences, some additional staff even though the new ministries were being created by splitting up the existing ministries.

Within weeks of being inducted into the cabinet, Peelee and Horan delivered results. Horan contacted the Chinese government and got them interested in the Quaree dam project and the aluminium smelter. The main condition set by the Chinese government was that the entire aluminium produced by the smelter had to be sold to China. The Chinese government did not seek the right to withdraw from the project in the event of terrorism. Chinese engineers would travel to the dam site, irrespective of whether the SFF was active in that area or not. Bendron Corp had lodged a claim with Tawa for payment of the money spent by it on the dam construction till the time it withdrew from Tawa on account of security concerns. The Chinese government offered to pay that amount, in return for the transfer of Bendron Corp’s rights to the dam to it.

In Seedaland, Hanoleeyan’s wife had delivered a baby girl sometime ago. Unlike Hanoleeyan, his wife was not used to living her life on the run. Hanoleeyan did not particularly want peace. And even if he agreed to a peace deal, everyone who knew him knew that he would not honour it for long. So, Peelee came up with a solution that made everybody happy. The government offered safe passage to Bangkok for Hanoleeyan’s wife and daughter. Thailand was one of the few countries which hadn’t cracked down on the SFF. Its politicians and policemen were almost as corrupt as the ones in Tawa and SFF activists continued to have limited operations there. In return for allowing Hanoleeyan’s wife and son to leave for Bangkok, Hanoleeyan agreed to an informal ceasefire till the elections got over. Tawan soldiers could patrol the roads of Eko, but they would not venture into the countryside.

If it were not for his wife, Hanoleeyan would not have agreed to such a deal that was likely to help the TFP retain power. Hanoleeyan preferred to have the PDA in power at Hepara rather than the TFP. If the PDA were in power, there would be less pressure on him from his people to negotiate or make peace. Not many Seedas wanted their fighters to lay down their weapons when the hated PDA was in power. The only sunny side to the deal for Hanoleeyan was that he could use the ceasefire period to strengthen the SFF… in case the fighting flared up again.

When the SFF suspended its activities, everyone heaved a sigh of relief. Kareeman was the only unhappy man in Seedaland, though he was too good a soldier to ignore his orders. Not many people knew that the suspension would last only till the elections got over. There were various theories as to why the SFF had stopped carrying out its weekly quota of bombing and ambushes. Some newspapers accused Mash of striking a secret deal with the SFF, at the cost of the nation’s security. Some others gave credit to Lt Gen Kareeman and the army for having vanquished the SFF. In any event, Mash’s popularity went up by a few notches.

And finally, two months after joining the cabinet, Horan came up with an idea which was so revolutionary that it left Mash gasping. It took Mash a full two weeks to agree to it. He knew that the ramifications of such a step would be serious. After a lot of soul searching, he decided to go for it. Calling his father Seleem Zoloda, a descendant of Guardian Akbar would not make Mash less of a mortal. However, once such an idea took root in the minds of the people, Mash’s position would be unassailable. The idea was planted in Tawa though a small article in a Keenda newspaper, which claimed that Mash hated talking about his lineage, especially the fact that his father was a descendent of Wasim Khan, the man who had led a group of Din-i-lahi practitioners to Tawa from India. Everyone in Tawa knew that Wasim Khan was a distant cousin of Emperor Aurangazeb, who was in turn the great-grandson of the Guardian.

Initially the idea was rejected outright by various people. However, everyone talked about it. The Hepara Herald ran an editorial which tore that theory to shreds. Till now, no one had any idea as to who the descendants of the refugees are. Everyone knows that they married local people and that their blood got mixed with that of the native population. However, since only a handful of people actually arrived from India and because Tawans had never been good at maintaining historical records, no one has ever been able to claim to be a descendant of Wasim-raan or any other refugee. To claim that Maheshdas-raan is a descendent of Wasim-raan and therefore of the Guardian, is a cheap ploy meant to garner votes in the next elections.

Mash was anguished when he read the Hepara Herald. Couldn’t the editor understand the motive behind all this? It was in Tawa’s interest that the TFP should win the next elections.  Or did Hepara Herald want the PDA in power? Tawa would go to the dogs if he ceased to be its prime minister. Horan consoled him. ‘Don’t worry Maheshdas-raan. If we repeat this theory many times, people will start believing us.’



More by :  Vinod Joseph

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