14

Nirbhaya picked up the receiver of the telephone from its cradle and dialed private number of the chief minister Pratap “Sir the goody is here with me. Can I come over and show it to you? You will simply love this. I have the information that our friend on the other side and his outfit has also shown keen interest in the same. I believe three different consignments have entered the state and the other two have gone into their hands”.

“No I am busy with the cabinet meeting. We shall meet at my residence in the evening. You must come in non-formals and bring your family along. We will have our dinner together”. The Chief Minister was known for not spending his evening time with any one. He will reach home and immediately get into his office room at the residence “there is so much to do”, he would often remark. He will have sparse dinner at late night and go to bed only after all files for the day have been attended to. The invitation to the chief cop meant the matter in hand was quite serious. It also indicated that he wanted to discuss the same in absolute privacy. It also showed the trust and the confidence the chief minister reposed in his chief of the state police Nirbhaya.

The secretariat building situated at the outskirts of the main city had not witnessed many a historical feats. None of the greats ever ruled from here like many others great of history had done from the massive historical structures of the Red Fort, the Vice Regal Lodge, the White House, the Buckingham Palace or even the smaller palaces like the Chattel, the Umaid Palace or even the Amer palace. All these palaces have been witness to the rules of the greats.  They have seen the rise and fall of the kingdoms. They have also been active participants in the making and breaking of the kings that had ruled the corridors of power of these palaces. .

However the seat of the government of any kingdom though does create a sense of awe and inspiration. It evokes a fear of the mighty and powerful and provokes and incites the willful obeisance of the masses.   The one from where our chief minister was addressing the cabinet meeting was a similar seat of the mighty government. The chief minister’s office at the second floor of this building spoke of the modern efficiency. The rose wood table with revolving chair placed behind it looked like the working desk of a busy executive. The backrest of this chair rose higher than the occupant; as it raised itself higher the smaller the occupant looked into it, as if indicating the might of the chair being greater than that of the occupant.

The members of the cabinet ministry numbering eight in total were seated opposite the chief minister. He had deliberately kept the strength of the cabinet smaller. The state treasury has been in doldrums. The current deficit ran into billion of rupees .Such a huge deficit in budgetary provisions of the state exchequer did not allow him to have room for more members of the legislative assembly into the ministerial berths. That would have meant putting more burdens on the state funds.

Pratap waited till the members of the hospitality department had laid the tea trays on the table. He beckoned them to leave and pushed his chair forward   to serve a cup of tea each to the guests in the room. He enjoyed serving tea personally to the guests. The ceremony of serving tea to the guests was always accorded a great importance. It in fact followed a big ritual in his family. His father who was a big landlord during the British era used to enjoy his evening tea served to him with a great fanfare. The liveried waiters would wait upon the guests when tea was served. His father will personally pour tea liquor into each cup, adding milk and sugar as per the liking of the guest. It appeared he enjoyed asking the guest “How much please” and Pratap seemed to have picked up his father’s good taste along with his nobility.

The Cabinet Secretary was presenting the report on excise revenue collections “The revenue collections from the auction of the liquor contracts during the current year have gone up from 1900billions to 2210 billions. That should give the exchequer an additional of 310 billions. However the revenues from the opium and poppy vend went down this year too. We expect a short fall of around 20 percent. Though we have tightened the leakage yet it seems people are gradually dropping their addiction”. “But that is to the contrary”, spoke the minister of social welfare, “In fact my department has information that the drugs are finding their way to into all sections of the society in the areas bordering the neighboring country. The school going kids are getting into the habit at a very young age and the menace is all pervasive in the labor class in the rural areas. The college youth have been found in the inebriated condition once too often by many of the NGOs. Here I present the latest figures”.

Pratap raised his hand to brush aside the report and asked the Cabinet Secretary to continue. “I am seized of the minister’s concern for the menace spreading. The government vends cannot be closed simply on this account. These vends do not strictly give supplies to any one without license. A prescription from the doctor is required to buy any thing from the opium and poppy vends. It is parallel supply of the contraband that finds its way to the rural schools and colleges. The brick kiln workers, the industrial labor, and the truck drivers are all falling a prey to this disease. We need to tighten and strengthen our enforcement wing.  The haulage of the contraband has also gone up this year as compared to the previous year. There have been some of the large catches of the contraband in the border districts. I shall read out the actual figures …” he started reading aloud the tangible figures.

Pratap looked at his watch; he had invited the chief of the state police Nirbhaya to his home for dinner this evening. He was anxious to have a look at the gun once again and hold it in his hands. He had seen one during his last trip to one of the European country. The older existing guns with which state police was equipped was outdated by now. The .303 was recommended 40 to 45 years ago. These weapons had served their purpose. They were good enough to deter the criminals from acting; but these were not effective enough to fight it out with attackers. The element of surprise was missing from the earlier ordnance. It took hell of a long time to load these guns; the aiming had to be perfect to kill or maim the predator. The semiautomatics can also not match the quickness of the gun that he saw in Europe. He wanted to equip the elite unit of the state police with this weaponry.

His fundamental agenda for the cabinet meeting was to provide for the new armaments and equipment to the elite unit of the state police. “In welfare state, however, you do not talk of purchasing arms for the internal security forces” he was aware of this fact very well.  “Some of the elected members of the party still have the socialist leanings. They do not forget the origin of the roots of the peasant’s party. They still believe in the concept of comradeships. They believe state exists for the welfare of the masses and the first and foremost duty of the state lies in creating wealth for its own self; so that it can provide for the people in General. Buying arms for the police force or equipping it with the modern weapons does not fit into their agenda. They think only bourgeois society need to spend on the security network and in their opinion the current security arrangement is sufficient to take care of the law and order maintenance in the state” he had told the chief of the state   police when he had approached him to replace the outdated and obsolete weapons of his force.

However Pratap agreed with many of his fellow cabinet ministers when they mentioned,

“What is urgently required is to open up new avenues of investments by the public sector to create jobs for unemployed youths. Every year thousands of fresh unemployed literates are   being produced by the old-fashioned and out-of-date education system. We have an education system that has been evolved out of centuries of subjugation to other cultures”.

Pratap shifted into his seat, the Cabinet Secretary had finished his presentations. It was the turn of Shrinee now. She wanted cabinet’s approvals for upgrading some of the primary schools meant for girls to the level of high schools. She wanted funds for this purpose. She was pleading her case forcefully to the finance minister.

“In the election campaign we had laid emphasis on the availability of education to the girl child within manageable distance from her home. The drop out rates of the girl students has been going up for want of availability of   higher education institutes in the rural areas. The schools for higher education are placed far away in the main towns. The orthodox parents are wary of sending their children to far off towns all alone; besides there is not much of public transport available. Every one cannot afford the private means of access. Modern times are not favorable to send girls alone away from home. The drop out rate of the girl students for higher studies will come down once we have high schools nearer to the villages”. She read aloud from a news paper clipping, “ Eve teaser molests girl in the bus”, I am reading this to make you all aware of the dangers we all expose our children to when they are forced to travel all alone away from  their homes ” said Shrinee.

“Yes but that unpleasant incident took place in the state capital. I am sure it is nowhere near your village”’ wisecracked the chief minister.

“Of course boss, besides she is stepping into your territory. The law and order of the state is your problem. She should not step onto your toes. We do not mind if she piles herself onto you but territory poaching is a strict no, no” one of the young ministers had remarked. There was loud laughter in the room. Pratap too joined them but cut his hilarity short when he saw Shrinee getting red on her face. She had actually blushed. He looked at her again. Such a beanbag of a woman was not his cup of tea. He wondered what his party president had found in her. He could see her only as a sack full of hay covered with nice clothes.

She had come to the election office of the party on the party President’s recommendations for an election ticket. Her only contribution to the politics has been to lead a statewide strike of the schoolteachers. The party president was insistent that she should be given the election ticket from the reserve constituency for women. It was the inner circle of the party cabinet only who knew of their amorous sojourns. Pratap smiled, while talking to himself, “He must be holding each one of these big ones in both his hands. They were too big for a single hand”.

The finance minister had reluctantly agreed to allocate funds for upgrading two of the schools in her constituency and sought approval from the chief minister. Pratap gave his silent nod. He did not want her to create ruckus at the party meeting, which was coming up next week.

He stood up to address the cabinet, “Friends! Comic story does not hide the fact that law and order has become one of the major issues for all of us today. The streets are not any longer safer for the common man. It is a well-known truth that our friends who sat on these seats prior to our coming into power are keen to break down the governmental machinery. They want to create a sense of helplessness and insecurity amongst the common people of our state. Our public is too simple to look through their designs. The Home minister of the neighboring state who happens to be our closest ally tells me that my predecessor is already in touch with some of the seers and prophets of the smaller yet influential shrines to incite them to create disturbance in the village and countryside. Our intelligence agencies have also sent a report that spells disaster in the coming times. I have been in touch with the chief of the state police to tighten up the administration of the law and order. We are also taking measures to transfer some of the bureaucrats from the key positions to bring some kind of the sanity to the running of the state. Our state has always been amongst the most developed states of the country, but the long reign of misrule by some of our predecessors has brought in confusion and panic in the public life. We need to remove the fear that is all pervading and bring back the confidence in common public. The electorates of our state have supported us by using their franchise wisely. We must not let them down. We will have to set our priorities right and in my opinion the Police Department needs a thorough refurbishing to bring back the safety to the common folks. Besides we need to go back over our predecessors’ policy on the agriculture support price, the industrial development and the electric power distribution. The revenue collection has fallen short by a wide margin. We will have to go the central government for additional dole to take care of our budgetary provisions and deficit for this year again.  It is my opinion that this will not be the right thing to do. Since the government at the centre belongs to the political party who has not taken very kindly to our defeating them at the ballot vote in this state, they will indulge into browbeating and blackmailing us. We will have to perforce support some of their defunct policies, even though we do not agree to the same”.

“I am here to make a personal appeal to all of you to please take care of the district administration of your revenue districts.  Each one of you has been made in charge of one revenue district, along with some of the local members of the legislative assembly of our party. Please involve them in the developmental work so that the masses get a feeling of some work taking place for their benefits. I understand the problems are manifold, particularly in the areas where the local self-administration belongs to the other party but we will have to take such things into our stride and move forward. I shall beseech the Minister of Industry, the Minister of Power and the Minister of Agriculture to look at some of the subsidies that can be curtailed without affecting the morale of the masses. We need to tighten up the strings of the treasury purse to tide over the bad times. We may require some of these funds to modernize the internal security machinery”.

He deliberately did not refer to the elite unit and its requirement of the modern guns. That would have caused uproar. Even on hearing ‘Modernization of the internal security agencies’ his colleague Rudar got up “but we need to look at the health, education and employment of the common man chief. I am sure that should be given priority over the expense meant for the police department. The security agencies are already flooded with   funds. Let them make use of the arms and ammunition already lying unused at the constabularies; besides whom will they use it against? They will use it against our own people. I think we need to look at the problem differently. What appears to be law and order problem and unrest is nothing but the after effects of the tremors the erstwhile ruling party has felt. The shock of losing the long enjoyed power   has been too much for them to bear. They will get used to sitting on the opposition benches with the passage of time”.

“I wish things were as simple as you have predicted them to be. That would have made our living much easier”, said Pratap, “I will request you to ponder over the situation more seriously”.

“You do not have to worry chief, we are with you. You have led us to the victory at the elections for the first time in the history of this country. I am sure you will see us getting our government established and stabilized as the time passes”, Brahma the minister of power assured him. A few others also nodded with him in agreement. The meeting was taking a turn in his favor bemused the chief minister.

“The situation gets compounded by the fact that we are surrounded by a hostile neighbor country. You are all aware of our relationship with them. The two wars have crippled them. The incision of their country into two halves has further demoralized their army Generals and their politicians alike. The survival of all these generals and politicians now depends on the perpetual unrest created by their stooges in the Indian Territory. They have to continuously feed a false catchphrase of Jihad to their simple Junta”, he continued.

“Their army is not able to face another confrontation directly against our well equipped armed forces. But they can certainly have a prolonged proxy war. Such a long drawn out war is already being fought by them with support from some of our brethren from within our own country. Some of our politicians for the sake of a few votes or notes can stoop low enough to invite the perpetrators from across the borders to cause disturbances. My friend Revenue Minister spoke of the drugs smuggling going up in the districts situated near the borders of the two countries. This act of smuggling is nothing but the onslaught of the alternative hostilities by the neighbors. They want our youth to become dependent on such intoxicants. They do this, so that they can cripple the future of our society and their propaganda can be experimented on our young blood. I have reports of some of their agents meeting our student leaders and political opponents. That spells of the bad times to come. The recent call for greater independence and autonomy for state governments by the student federations appears to be the handiwork of our neighbors only. Otherwise the student community has kept itself aloof from such issues so far. I will request all of you to organize public meetings in your constituencies to ensure the common man does not get mislead by the nefarious designs of our enemies. We also need to look at some of the shrines and religious places getting undue importance amongst the commoners.  Even though it is said that the politics find their starting point in religion; such religious places should not be allowed to usurp and hijack the political authority enshrined in our constitution. All great rulers have found religion often usable to control the mass psychology. We ourselves have come to power because of religious overtone of our parent body but the allegiance and loyalty must be owed to the Supreme seat and not to the factions. Some of our people have been hobnobbing with the breakaway groups of minor shrines. We must be aware of any of their movements. I have information of my predecessor having parley with head of a shrine situated near the supreme seat. Such parleys are ominous of the difficult times to come. I pray to the almighty to give sense to our brethren who could play into the hands of an overambitious seer. His religious tenacity is known to have taken the connotation of political ambitions. This will prove dangerous in times to come”.

Pratap could see a number of his fellow ministers’ simper and smirk in their seats. He realized that by touching the overtones of religious tenacity of some of them he has gone a little too far. He knew he has hit the nail in a very hard way. He glanced at his wrist watch and curtly told the audience, “I hope we will keep our duty to the nation into the top of our mind. We will not get led astray towards the wrong direction. With this I bring my address to the cabinet to an end as I have another appointment to keep”.

Pratap did not wait to see the brunt of his speech on his colleagues.  He could however hear the claps of some of his fellow ministers. He knew Brahma, the Power Minister, had led this applaud. He was the first one to start clapping and that had urged all the others present in the meeting to lend their hands too. .

“I have formed this ministry by bringing together a strange combination of different political alliances.  each  one of those sitting inside represent a divergent political thought and philosophy” he thought, Brahma belonged to their political collaborator party who itself professed loyalty to another religious and social faction of the society .this political party had  driven the mass commitment amongst the voters on account of religious fervor created by it. “Politics do bring strange bedfellows together and the best part is it makes them enjoy each other”, reflected Pratap.

He dozed off in the air condition comfort of the car he was traveling in. The droning sound of the cooling machine acted as a lullaby.  He could not even return the salute of the police sentries posted at the exit barrier of the civil secretariat. The distance of the civil secretariat from the office to his house was barely four minutes; but the security drill necessitated the alteration in the route of his official caravan almost every day. It took him more than seven minutes today to reach his residence. He woke up on hearing the clicking of the boots and the blowing of the trumpet by the contingent of the armed forces appointed at his residence. His personal secretary sitting in the front seat was also nudging him gently to wake up. He rubbed his eyes and alighted from the car. He brought his left foot down and out of the car much before the police sentry could open the door for him.

He acknowledged the ceremonial salute of the police contingent and walked directly to the study room on the first floor of the residence. He had asked the chief of the state   police Nirbhaya to wait for him there. The chief of the state   police put down the cup from which he had been tea, on the ornate table and raised the right hand to the right side of his forehead for the ceremonial salute to the chief minister. Pratap stopped him midway “Cut the crap! You need not be formal with me in private.  Please hand out a cup of tea to me also, I am quite tired, the cabinet meeting exhausted my entire energy”.

A staff waiting upon them in the wings of the room emerged from the side door to look in and check up with the chief minister if he needed anything. Pratap sent him away with instructions to not to disturb them for the evening.

He spoke to his wife on the intercom “We want dinner for two served tonight in the study, the usual stuff; no formalities”.

“Why would you want to have it all alone? Dammi is also here, I am sure you do not lack in your chivalry. We will have it together on the dinner table only”. Dammi the wife of the chief of the state   police was a distant cousin of the chief minister. Pratap asked his wife to hand over the telephone to her ‘Welcome Chhoti”, he always had treated her like his younger sister. He had acted as her local guardian when they were studying in a boarding school. “I did not remember that I have invited you to come too, how forgetful of me please forgive me. We will be down for dinner but I want you to cook Chicken a la Kiev in the same way you had cooked last time, it was too scrumptious”. She was a reasonably good cook; Pratap just loved pampering the women with niceties. The stress in police service have otherwise also been mounting everyday and he wanted to ease the tension for the wife of the top cop of his government  as he felt responsible for the families of every police officer who had to undergo the insecurities and tension of every day fight against criminals and politicians alike. He realized his hands were too tied with unnecessary official procedure and protocol. He noticed the policeman was staring at him with amusement

“I think I need a lesson or two from you in handling of the fairer sex. You literally swipe them off their feet with your charm. Is that the reason they voted for you?’ the chief of the state   police had laughed at his own remarks.

Pratap hid his shyness and beckoned him to start “Come let us look at the serious issue at hand”.

Nirbhaya The chief of the state   police took out the gun and placed it on the table for the scrutiny of Pratap.

“Is it loaded?  Chief Minister asked him.

‘No but the bullets can be loaded. If you want to fire one we will have to go out in the open grounds”.

Pratap picked up the gun “How many of these can cross borders of the country, I am sure a few of them here and there do not make much of a difference. As it is some of the districts are already flooded with traditional arms”, Pratap wanted to put the cop at ease. But he knew he was giving him a false assurance He could feel the concern and consternation on the face of the cop.

“They are spread everywhere boss. From the university hostels to the residences of some of our officers, from the government offices to the village panchayats, the tentacles of our enemy are all over us. The guns of all shapes and sizes no doubt existed earlier also, but the kind we have in our hands had never found so much interest amongst the various factions earlier. I get shudders when I think of the turmoil that will be caused all around if these guns are put into misuse. These guns could be used against you, your ministers, or even   some of the softer targets but important government functionaries. The purpose of using this arsenal can be simply to create scare, the law and order break down and give the central government an opportunity to bring your ministry down”.

Pratap appreciated the concern shown by the chief of the state   police and yet he did not want to exhibit any kind of fear or apprehension, “The break down of the government can be arranged otherwise also, even without the use of guns and ammunition. The great Mahatma did have only a small stick yet his Satyagraha (the insistence on the truth) had stopped the clock of the mightiest kingdom from ticking in this country. I am not however saying these are your misgivings only.  We cannot ignore and overlook the statements being issued by the mischief mongers. The demand for the greater independence to the states has always surfaced from time to time. I too as the administrative head of a state will prefer greater freedom from the central control. The dependence on the union should be reduced to the minimum level possible for smooth functioning of the regional units; in order to make them more welfare oriented towards the people. Yet at the same time I firmly believe that the union must prevail. The center of the circle must hold in order to keep the spokes of the states intact so that the wheels of our country keep running. Our nation has paid too heavy a price for getting freedom from alien rules… We must remember the centuries of repression we had to undergo at the hands of the Mughal, Afghans and British. The scars of centuries old subjugation, carved on the psyche of the common people are too deep to heal. We Indians do not yet value our freedom.  I am disturbed at the talks of breaking away from this country. The student wing has been playing at the hands of the pariah and overambitious politicians. The demand for separate homeland is coming from the lands, which are not the part of our country. Instead of contributing to the welfare and development of the common folks the Professor ran away from this country and raised his head in the distant part of the world. His hands could be behind the illegal smuggling of the arms or it could at the instigation of the Pro Pak lobby.  But what surprises me is why bring in guns? A few of these guns will not be able to challenge the might of the powerful Indian army. It is essential for us to find out whom but more important is to analyze why. Why for almighty sake! Bring the peaceful state to the point of the disaster. The unemployment, the underemployment of young blood, the falling standards of morals in commoner’s life, the breaking away of the thread of the family relationships between different communities can take all of us back to the times when one brother invited a foreign invader to defeat his own blood sibling. I am sure no one wants it. If my sacrifice can prevent all this I am willing to lay down my office. I shall not shirk from giving my head for this country if it can prevent what you are apprehending,” The question though was not directed at the chief cop, elicited a nodding of head in the negative from him.

“But Sir there is a saying ‘prevention is better than cure ‘The modernization of the armed wing can give us the necessary fire power to contain the blood shed we apprehend ”.

“No, no it will not prevent yet it will enable your forces to face them with equal strength” said Pratap, “I am trying to bring round my cabinet colleagues to understand mine and your point of view.  But let me tell you even as the head of the ministry I have certain limitations. There are too many checks and balances on my decisions. We need a majority pronouncement to finance your requirement”.

“In that case boss I have plans to put into use the guns that we will be confiscating in various operations”.

“You will do nothing of the sort” Pratap realized he was getting snappy; he modulated his voice and politely told the chief of the state police Nirbhaya, “We should not overlook the authority exercised by the judicial officers of the state.  We have a very strong judicial system. You can be personally hauled up by small public interest litigation. But I would suggest you do not have to exhibit any kind of panic.   We will find a way out, however at present we are all groping in the dark about raison d’être. Interrogations into all such arms smuggling must be handled by you personally to find out the answer to this ‘Why’, unless the time itself reveals their nefarious designs of the agencies that are pushing these guns within the boundaries of our country”; Pratap however was quite impressed by the efficiency of the gun. He continued “I shall be keeping this gun brought by you as a souvenir though to remind me of the emergency situation that we are facing.  This gun will also help both of us to keep ourselves focused on need for better and modern armory for your department”.

The call for dinner from down stairs came through the intercom. The ladies looked at their husbands’ forbidding faces and they could guess the worries writ large on the faces of their respective husbands. The wives carried on their own small talk huddled in one corner of the table. The wife of the chief minister got up to help the guests serve their food. She knew it was time to keep the servants away from the main house. In her family all serious discussions were handled by the closest family members and settled within the four walls of their personal rooms. None of the servants employed in her parental home ever got wind of what was discussed within those bed rooms or even on the dining table. This evening also when her husband had made the demand for dinner to be served upstairs she knew the need for privacy. She asked all of the servants to leave from the kitchen and the main house. Though the entire house was thoroughly sanitized and   debugged many times by the security sleuths, the human ears could prove more damaging than the electronic devices.

Their dinner over it was time to bid goodnight to their guests. Pratap did not get up to see them off.  He vaguely kept staring into vacant space while his wife got up from the dining table. She went to see the guests off to the main door. She came back and gently asked him to come for sleep in the bedroom upstairs. Possibly she could take his mind away from the problems of the state and politics thereof. Ever since he was elected the head of the legislature, their nocturnal actions were getting rare by the night. She had been maintaining her physical health fairly well; otherwise too she belonged to the rustic clan where women retained their natural youth and body through out their lifetime. She was still a “reason of envy” for women her age that would otherwise look worn-down without the non-natural supports. She thought “possibly the time of early morning could be the ideal time to tease his amorous senses and provide him the necessary relief for now he was too much occupied elsewhere”. She was in for a surprise when he pulled her towards him and covered her lips with the fire burning inside him, “you must take out all your worries and leave them for others for now. It is time to get lost”, is all she could tell him before he shut her up again with his passionate kiss and holding her locked in his arms, he moved her to the sleeping room.

 

 

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