He looked at Koena who was leading him in the front. They had been walking around the holy fire for the last round of marriage circles.  The other couples too had completed their seven rounds along with them on their respective holy fire pots set up for each couple who was getting married on that day, separately. The great priest Rajamantran was explaining to them the meaning of the husbands leading their wives into the matrimonial bliss. “You will take care of your wife through all walks of life. Even when she is not well you will look after her. It will be your pious duty to provide for her and her children etc”. He will ask them to stop in between the circles and explain to them the meaning of each round taken till they completed the seventh round. “We declare all of you husband and wife respectively. All of the newly married couples should seek the blessings of your elders”.

The great priest Rajamantran personally introduced all the couples to the gentry of the highly placed people of the society of the town present on the stage. Ranjit and Koena were being led to the home minister Aaham when a commotion was noticed outside the marriage pandal.  The guards deployed by the shrine were preventing two men from entering the marriage pandal, “you may be the officers from any big department. We will not permit you to enter here. Our great priest will be free in a couple of hours.   Then only we will permit you to come inside the pandal. Or otherwise you can go and meet the home minister Aaham at the state guest house. We have orders from our great Priest that no one other than the specific invitees will be permitted to enter the marriage venue”.

The home minister Aaham beckoned his secretary to go and enquire into the matter. The secretary listened to the visitors and came rushing to the home minister Aaham and whispered a few words into the ears of the politician.  Ranjit and his newly wed were standing next to the minister. They  overheard the following remarks, “warrants being issued, murder of bus passengers and the killing of the police deputy chief”.  He covered his face with the flower mask worn by the bridegroom, it had become apparent they were talking of the blood chilling murder of Tanwar committed by him, but he was still not sure they were actually looking for him; unless someone from the shrine has sung a song to the police.  It was impossible to link him to the crime. Then someone mentioned the name Parma, cops were looking for Parma and they have information he should have come to wedding ; hence the plain clothes men from the investigation cell had discretely come to the function to inform home minister Aaham about the search warrants issued by the local  police after they had obtained permission of the chief minister. They wanted to come inside and without disturbing the wedding function wanted to give advance intimation to the Home minister Aaham who otherwise would be embarrassed if the fugitive was found and apprehended here in his presence.

” Has your chief minister gone out of his mind? Does he think that we shall be attending a function where criminals abound? This is a place of God. Our dear children are being married off by the blessings of the great priest Rajamantran of our community. We do not ascribe to the view that the person by the name you suggested can be even allowed to come any where near to the holy men. Go back and tell your bosses that I have ordered them to stop all the nonsense of this search etc at once. In case they do not, we shall see to it that the government that has signed such a non sensical orders should fall.  Your chief minister then my dear friend will have to give lots of explanation to the new administration”.

“Sir we are simply obeying orders that have been issued from the top and in no case we shall be undertaking any step that could be against the ethics of decency. We have worked under you when you were at the helm of the affairs of the state.  In fact I was directly attached to the security wing at your residence; so how do you expect my lord that I will allow any of the warrants to be operated against any one even distantly associated with you”.  The home minister Aaham closely looked at the balding man whose smile appeared familiar and then he placed him, “I see you are Ralla Ram who used to accompany me to the morning walks.  Thank god it is you.  I am sure you will not permit your subordinates to create nuisance here”.

“No question of creating any unpleasantness here sir.  We will rather prefer that you come back to the state.  This new government is of no use. They are neither allowing us to do our duty, nor do they allow the antisocial elements to do their work. How do you expect we all can survive? I am sure one day we all will perish if we do not get from the law breakers what is rightfully due to us”. The home minister Aaham and the great Priest; laughed out aloud on the joke thrown by the petty police officer. He ordered two chairs to be placed for the investigators and told his men meaning fully to look after them well.

Ranjit heaved a sigh of relief once he heard the name of another person being mentioned but it had become apparent the local police was still investigating into the murder case that happened inside the shrine. Unless the current administration changes and the forces closer to the sage come to the thrown; he will always have a Damocles’ sword hanging on his head.  He will not be able to function the way the great priest Rajamantran wanted him to. He was feeling scared.  He felt that the law will some day catch on with him.

A large number of people who had come to attend the mass marriage function were getting restless. The sage addressed them in his most endearing tone “it is nothing my children. It is only a small disturbance from the local administration. We have already taken care of the same. The food for every one is being served at the community kitchen. It is my earnest desire we all sit together and partake what the lord has kind fully sent for us along with his heavenly bliss”. He   personally went around to the newly weds and led them towards the inner courtyard of the temple shrine.

Koena who had been worried about her father’s state of mind wished to reassure her self that Ranjit is not involved in any of such nefarious activities the shrine was suspect fully  being associated with.

“I sincerely hope you will keep your self away from the activities of the sage and his men”.

“Believe me dear I have my personal business to attend to which has been started recently by me. Once we are finished with our job of getting married, we may migrate abroad as the business of hardware exports and imports can be handled from there too”, he deliberately spoke in the louder tone to make sure her father had overheard whatever they were discussing. He went and sat next to his mother in law. He beckoned Koena also to do the same. He spoke to the family as one of their family member “I think the time has come to put a morsel and two in mouth and believe me I am absolutely famished. I can eat plenty of food. This exercise of going round the fire for such a long rounds, really tires you out”.

“Yes dear but it is only the beginning.  You will have to do this running around all through your life since you are a married man now. This wife of yours used to make me dance to her tunes all my life. We are sure now she will have you responding to her finger’s movements”, Munna spoke in a very serious tone.  Every one burst out laughing. Ranjit knew he had to make extra effort to remove any doubt lurking in the family’s mind about his association with the great priest Rajamantran and his men.  He did not want his marital life to start on a sore note “all of us shall be hence forth living all together in my house. I want you dear dad to leave your job to help me in my business and guide us with your wisdom”.

“But that is impossible I have never handled any kind of commercial business in my life. It is however reassuring to note that you are serious about your business. I pray that you will remain away from the dirty politics of your uncle. It is not meant for simpletons like us. We are better off in our small little world of family pleasures”,   this was the first advice given to him by his bride’s father.

The great priest Rajamantran who had been controlling himself during the public function; flew off his handle once he found the home minister Aaham alone with him, and in his uncontrolled rage gave a warning note to the big man, “if the state government does not stop prying into the affairs of shrine, lots of skeletons will fly out of different cupboards.  Your name could also be dragged into whatever has been happening into the public life. I will tell you either you dismiss this chief minister or we know how to take care of the enemies of the shrine. You must speak to the governor of the state here in our presence and like you had promised; carry out the agreement of imposing the central rule on this state. The agreement of handing over the powers to one of our nominees must be honored by you. We on our part have created situation where the common man today is scared and terrorized of stepping out of his abode without a threat to his life and liberty. If you still believe we have not done enough; the violence in common man’s life can be escalated to unprecedented levels. But we are afraid then our boys will have reached a point of no return.  The state will have to pay a very high price to yours and our ambitions”. The great priest Rajamantran lifted the telephone receiver and handed it over to the home minister Aaham, “please you may dial the telephone number of the governor’s house. You may tell him that the administrative powers of the state ministry must be withdrawn immediately.  You will tell the governor to issue orders forthwith, lest the state police apprehend any of our men”.

“I will have to consult the prime minister and it is not desirable from the public propriety point of view that such a step is initiated at the times when I am enjoying your hospitality. The press could kill my political career.  In any case it is time to declare fresh elections to the state assembly.  I will ask the prime minister to hasten up the process of dismissing the state assembly”, the home minister Aaham wanted to gain some time to talk to his mentors.  Besides he did not like the manner in which the sage was ordering him to do things. He wished he could tell this preacher of no importance to behave himself. “Howsoever big and mighty this sage might have become he has been the creation of my diabolical mind and the creation can seldom be bigger than the creator”.

“You can not declare election to the state assembly even if you dismiss the incumbent ministry. General Durjan public does not want to vote under the existing franchise and the constitution. We have all along been asking for an independent state.  I strongly believe you will support us the way we have been doing all kinds of favor for you and your party. We must have a separate identity as an independent country. Since you have been the foremost propagator of an agitation against the existing government; we sincerely will provide you with the highest office in our independent country. You can be the president of a new nation, a nation which will be based on the purity of caste, creed and community, where you and I will get enough authority to promote our own culture, and heritage”, the great priest Rajamantran thundered in front of the home minister Aaham.

“I do understand your concern for the nation and the religion but believe me we had never thought of severing you and your people from the main stream.  It has never been the ideology to separate your community from the national reckoning. You have always been the front runners in this country and you will remain so for centuries to come. My party and the high command would hate to be associated with any separatist demand that creates a gulf between the existing constitutional system and its provisions of accommodating different flavors of minorities in this vast country. You have always been given a fair deal by the successive governments that have been at the helm of affairs in the central government. May be it is the state units who have acted discriminatingly whenever they have had a mandate for the party other than ours .This time too the people of this state made a blunder of voting for a party that had its roots in two different ideologies. This marriage of political convenience could prove very dangerous for such a large democracy in the world.  The political parties of different ideologies had   come together for the sake of defeating the oldest representatives of the people. We are the born aristocrats and rulers of this country. We have always supported a strong opposition given to us by the people so that our successive governments over the years are never mistaken for one party rule by the supporters of democratic traditions. The opposition has always been our guiding torch for devising the pro people schemes. Now that we have been virtually forced to move to the left, the opposition will cease to exist. That is why we want to give one more chance to    people of the state to use their franchise again.  We will let them help the opposition sit in their proper seats in the state assembly.   I must say that your boys have done their job fairly well but it is time they went back to the shrine. It is high time they  concentrated on the study of theology and religious sermons. Your services rendered will be well rewarded.  The police cases pending against you and your boys will be taken care of once we regain control of the state after removing our arch rivals, which will be done immediately. I shall be personally meeting the prime minister and sending the communiqué to the governor to recommend the end to the state assembly on the grounds of deteriorating law and order in the state”.

“Do you expect the enemy to wait till the fall of the ministry? I am surprised to see the naivety being shown by you. My boys are getting desperate ever since two of their companions have been picked up by the chief of the state   police and his henchmen. The public frenzy can not be built time and again to support any move that creates havoc with their daily living. There may not be enough public support should the police come up with the charges against my men. Why they may even nab me for engineering a murder of the police officer; though it may not hold in the court of law.  But I will hate to be hauled up and put under any kind of forced captivity. You and your party may not come to our rescue should that happen,” the seer was visibly upset and apprehensive.

The home minister Aaham hated the day he had gone to the small time preacher for help; it was getting out of his hands now. He knew that unless he takes control of the situation in the state immediately he may regret it all his life later.

“You have a complete control over the Sanctro sanctorum. None dare touch you here so long as we do not permit any one to enter.  Believe you me the common folks will protect you at any cost as long as you maintain the facade of being their religious savior and protector of their ethnic identity. We are not asking you to play down the role so devised by the circumstances. In fact this garb of religiosity will fetch us the record numbers of votes in the ensuing elections. We will offer you the seats in the constituencies falling within the jurisdictions of your shrine. That will enable you to maintain your grip on the masses of your flocks. You have a complete control over the finance of the Sanctro sanctorum. We will ensure you win hands down in the next managing committee’s election. Let the new elections be completed without any kind of disturbances.  You will hold your boys till the final day of the mandate. The boys will move back to the shrine in case we win.  Otherwise we will let leash the arsenal you have been secretly getting into the country. I hope by now you must have fortified your self against even the mightiest attack”.

The religious preacher, the spokesperson for the souls of his parishioners, the king’s soul keeper had very amusingly been listening to the proposal of the politician par excellence.   He was amazed that this person has been playing dirty politics not only with the state subjects but also with the likes of the pontiff himself. But he said to himself, “this is not the right time to react and antagonize this python in the garb of a   chameleon.  We will have to toe the line drawn by him, till we get the current state government removed from the position of power. As soon as we are able to achieve this we will strike back against this so called big man and his manipulating godfathers in the central government”.

The sage put on his most endearing smile and in sugar coated words asked the home minister Aaham from the central government “sir I do understand your concern in getting back the powers to the state assembly and as guided by you we have created enough havoc already for the electorate.  The common man has been cursing the state chief minister and his protégés for their failure to control the every day macabre incidents. They will be very happy in case you are able to do away with this state administration. Accordingly I have been requesting that this must be done when you are on a visit to the state. You have assessed the failure of the state machinery to prevent attacks on poor public hence on the recommendations of the state governor please have the assembly dissolved. Thus you will be   paving way for fresh elections”.  The great priest Rajamantran continued in his honey dipped words “I am sure the prime minister will understand that it is required to give a sense of confidence back to the voter. Nothing can be more important for any political party than to regain its trust, faith and   face with the electorate. Should you want me to speak to the common public on the dismissal of their elected representatives I shall be too happy to do so. Just remember we were partners in turmoil’s and will remain so even in reconstruction and rebuilding exercise too”.

The home minister Aaham who had been on the look out to rebuild the burnt bridges with the state subjects could see a silver lining in the clouds that had appeared on the political horizon of the state, “you should understand that in this entire political game plan we may have to at times condemn the activities under taken by your shrine.  Will you be prepared to face that kind of flack and take it in the right spirits? Of course we will also find a route to the main stream for all your boys by offering them the prized positions in the party, government and public life. The hype their surrender will create will add a new chapter to the political maneuverings managed by me. Let me speak to the governor and arrange a fax on the deteriorated administrative situation, to the prime minister. I will immediately thereafter speak to him for getting the necessary presidential orders signed. Who knows I may give you an invaluable gift before I leave this state. You and your buddies will always be thankful to me for getting them into such a prominence though”.

The home minister Aaham undertook the journey to the governor’s house immediately thereafter. The oncoming darkness of the times when both ends of day meet i.e. when the sun has just set in and the stars and the moon have still not found their way high enough in sky to provide a little light to the weary traveler was making it difficult for the home minister Aaham’s driver to find his way through “you can slow down a bit, I know with growing age it is difficult to see in the darkness of the ensuing dusk. The headlights of the oncoming vehicles simply throw flash of their head lights in your eyes. These flashes are virtually blinding you”, he told his driver.

“The high speed at this age is bad for health in any way. I wish I could say the same about your public life. You should also slow down a minute and pause to redirect your way through. Let the things mature and may be then you can find better grip of the situation”, the driver who had seen his master go through ups and downs of political life for past thirty years, and had been with him through all kinds of conditions could afford to speak so.

“Oh shut up you are still a novice to the world of royal intrigues. What do you know how kingdoms are won? Your only job is to steer the car through traffic snarls. hence pay full attention to your job only. I have seen of late you have been poking your nose around too much”, the politician got irritated on the advice rendered by his chauffer, “when I need your advice I will ask for it.  Do not just sit morose on the wheel. Pick up some speed too”, the driver knew such minor clashes between him and his master were quite frequent during the day.  He just laughed it out and shrugged his shoulders as if he was saying “what is it to me”.

The secretary to the governor of the state was waiting for him in the front security office. The official ran up to car of the important visitor. He opened the front door, hopped into seat next to the driver and directed the chauffer to drive down for the meeting at square room. The square room was a small hall whose four walls ran parallel to each other. It had been named so by one of the last British residents and ever since the name stuck on to the room.

The home minister Aaham noticed the military discipline visible in the governor house managed by the state administration. It has so been because most of the occupants who lived here have come to this position after they retire from the active service of the armed forces or even the civil services. The current incumbent Colonel Bangru belonged to the supply corps of the armed forces where he had helped many of his politician friends dig gold through supply contracts to the armed forces. One such tender in which the home minister Aaham’s relatives had shown interest brought him closer to the politicians. Aaham   have always preferred non-active politicians to be placed on the gubernatorial positions. He always felt that the non partisan approach of the representative could not be maintained. Besides the politicians will willy-nilly ask for certain favors off the civil and military officials which definitely had to be paid back in terms of such prized positions to them when they retired. Such carrots were necessary to be dangled in front of the adamant and “stick to the file policy” civil and military servants. The British who ruled this country for a long time were quite wise in devising such plum postings in almost all the colonies they ruled over. The availability of such plum positions after retirement ensured a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood prevailed amongst the officers posted within the colonized countries.

Aaham was happy to see that “the governor had the necessary courtesy to meet him at the entrance to the square room.  Otherwise some of the latest lots appointed to these posts were always behaving in their own peculiar and idiosyncratic ways. They carried with them the burdens of their earlier lifestyles. They still were loaded with disdain for public representatives even though they knew the term of governorship depended on the politicians”. He remembered the constitutional crisis they had to face in one of the large lingual state where the governor simply refused to tender the resignation demanded by the central government. Eventually the home ministry had to dig out the pending cases of criminal corruption against the bureaucrat turned governor to force him to step down. Thereafter the prime minister had taken charge of all confidential dossiers of such appointments. Colonel Bangru the man waiting for him, spread both his arms for the home minister Aaham for a warm and friendly hug. He has been anticipating his visit ever since he came to know that the big man has come to attend the marriage fair organized by the great Priest, “it is good to see you back in your home state after such a long time Mr. Home minister. I am sure your visit will bring some sanity back to the life of common man otherwise the entire state has been turned into a slaughter house by the extremists”.

The home minister Aaham extricated himself from the bear hug. He selected a prominent seat on the sofa laid in the square room from where he could have a commanding position in the conclave with this ex- military officer and parked himself therein. He mentioned the governor to sit too, “Yes but as administrative and constitutional head of the state it is equinamally your responsibility to keep the central government informed of the law and order situation in your state. We have to yet receive a formal report from your end. Surely you can not be the silent spectator to the inefficient and ineffective state administration. The prime minister has been quite upset on the recent spate of killings in the state. You can not have one community being subjected to all kind of annihilation by the criminals running their murderous gangs. The prime minister has asked me to convey a note of serious concern. The state administration, who has been fiddling like Nero when Rome burnt, has lost all moral grounds to remain in power. We will like to have your recommendation for dismissing chief minister Pratap’s ministry and dissolve the state assembly. This state must have a fresh election to find another legitimate ruler. I am sure you will not mind mounting the horse of administration and get into active life once again”.

“But Pratap’s ministry has been elected a short while ago only. He needs sufficient time to prove himself to the common publics who have elected him. Whatever violence and reaction we get is a spillover from the poll setbacks to selfish factions of the religious body. I am sure this will ultimately die a natural death. Soon we will have peace once again”. Colonel Bangru’s statement angered him but the home minister Aaham kept his cool, “I did not know you are still such a novice in the art of politics. Can you not see that if that happens and this ministry runs its full term , people of the state will by then get used to be ruled by the likes of Pratap who bring with them the reconciliatory policy of having trucks with the fundamentalists. There exists in this country an unwritten code of keeping fundamentalists out of power. However by the coming together of two different religious thoughts they will form a strong awakening amongst the masses that the administration can survive on two different legs too. That might spell a doomed future for a secular party of our standing. You must understand it is dangerous to have that kind of rising amongst the masses.  Hence the government must go”.

“I beg your pardon sir but I do not subscribe to the views expressed by you. On the contrary these fundamentalists have always been closer to your regime. There have been instances when their powers were enhanced by you which should have been instead curtailed. The shrine that is purported to be behind all the violent activities has not come up all of a sudden.  The successive governments much prior to the current administration have always stood behind these religious exploiters of mass mentality. Once you pull back your support to these leaches and suckers of the society’s blood they will automatically stop acting like parasites of common good. I do not have the moral courage to ask Pratap to step down.  His mass support base will catapult the state into a riot of no return. At least at this fag end of my carrier I do not want to carry the burden of having put the state on fire”, Colonel Bangru did not know how he was able to utter the words just spoken by him. He had no intentions to spoil his relations with such a big man yet he could not help himself.

“Mr. Governor I have all respects for the moral pangs you are suffering from. But what about my conscious, it too is burdened with many moral thoughts; for example your daughter’s industrial empire which has come up on the funds siphoned off from the state exchequer, your sons’ visits to foreign countries when you were heading the state public commission to stash the illegal funds collected by you by doling out the appointment to state executive positions.  It is difficult for me to contain within my pure conscience all these moral pricks.  Plus you also must remember the court marshal held in abeyance when you were a serving soldier. All of your misdoings hang heavy on my mind and heart too. I think you will not like me to unburden myself by spilling out every thing to the press and public. The impeachment could rather be expensive for your entire family. You could all be doomed to stay behind bars for many years. I suggest you weigh the outcome as against the signing of a simple law and order report”, the home minister Aaham knew he had hit the right cord with the governor.

He called the secretary to the governor on the intercom, (each official of the state was known to the politician by first name) “Ramkishore your boss has some thing stuck up in his throat.  He may not be in a position to dictate the correct vocabulary. Since I am not very familiar with the English language I will tell you in short to address a letter to the President of the country asking for the dismissal of the present state government. I do not have to spell the grounds of dismissal to you.  I am sure you are literate enough to use your discretion”.

He thrust the letter under the governor’s nose for his signatures “do not raise your blood pressure.  We will not prefer losing a friend of your stature. However you could instead ask either your son or daughter to apply for an election ticket to the forth coming state assembly.  We will reserve one seat for one of your family members”.

“Mind you sir! You have forced me to sign a letter which will prove very expensive to the nation. It is not the dismissal of Pratap’s ministry.  It is possibly the death knell for the century old communal harmony and the brotherhood of different minority groups living in this country. One day the great priest Rajamantran will bite the hand that has fed him the poisonous milk”, Colonel Bangru’s emotional outburst was dismissed with a shrug of both the shoulders by the home minister Aaham. “You will have to accompany me to the press meet”.