SCENE SEVEN – TIM HEADS TO WASHINGTON
Tim gets off the stage and leaves through the main door instead of the direct exit from the stage. On his way out he reaches out and shakes hands, poses for pictures, and signs autographs. It’s been a few minutes since he has made his speech and he is trending “#Wontask” on all the important social networking sites. Meanwhile, in Detroit Prime, the local media channel broadcasting across the states, the telecasters are caught between their allegiance to the republicans and their disagreement with Tim’s speech. Owned by a formal republican, the channel aired the entire speech only to forget it ever happened and switch instead to a replay of the previous day’s news. Tim was becoming an embarrassment to many old members of the party who were seeing the ghosts of communism stick out its ugly head through Tim’s speeches. Within the more liberal news channels, there were intense debates between young republicans, in support of Tim, and Democrats who were raking up the issue of national integrity and calling Tim an anarchist. On social media, one tweet read, “Won’t ask if he takes us to war with ourselves.” Another tweet in response to the earlier one read, “Won’t ask if the world stays poor and disunited”. Tim’s speech was being studied carefully by everyone who was interested in politics. His short speeches communicated far more than the finely crafted speeches the leaders of the world gave their people. Blended with frustration and oratorical zeal, Tim spoke on behalf of the collective despair of the American people.
Now back in his car, Tim is focused on his meeting with the Collective. Before that he is to meet Uncle Theodore to get himself into the right frame of mind for the meeting with the Collective. With the old guard yet to declare their own candidate, it is essential for Tim to appear as the face of the party for now. Despite the popularity he currently enjoyed, he knew all this meant nothing without the backing of the big corporates. Tim is a political novice compared to most others who are in this race with him. The backing from the Collective means there won’t be paucity of funds which are independent of local and national calculations that go in during elections. The Democrats and the Republicans with their conservative bastions will show up with all the financial muscle required to see an election through.
Barbara, the primary democratic contender was doing just fine with her campaign. Tim is aware that the moment another republican joins the race, his popularity would be undermined by the relentless media campaign by the opposing camps.
It is 2 pm IST, and Ludhiana wears a sleepy look at this time. The SarkariDaftars have just gotten done with lunch, and it’s time to while away the last few hours before the clerks and officers head home.
June is when Delhi swelters and bakes, but for those working out of Delhi’s administrative capital it means being indoors, lots of chai and lots of gupshup. Files seldom move from one department to another unless a message arrives from the senior bureaucrats. The office of The Minister of Heavy Industries has a special visitor today. Mr. Ravi Agarwal is here for updates on his proposal. The re-auction of coal blocks is coming up in a few days and Mr. Agarwal does not want any glitches this time around. The previous government got embroiled in a massive coal scam and so this time Mr. Agarwal has taken extra precaution to make it appear that the allocation of coal blocks to him is transparent.
He has been informed of the bidding price much in advance. He has taken the required bank guarantees to ensure that the event plays out according to the script. With the decks cleared for the award of the coal block to him, Mr. Agarwal bides his time in the office. He had made sure that his arrival would be as conspicuous as possible by getting the whole media to focus on him. This would make his meeting with the minister appear above board. Having been earlier accused of wrong doing by the court and the media, he would want to come out clean this time.
The allocation of coal blocks is extremely important for his commercial ventures. India has a huge coal reserve, and most of it is located in ecologically sensitive regions populated by various indigenous tribes who had now taken to armed conflict to defend their habitations. This has been causing frequent interruptions and business was not as smooth as it used to be a decade back. Ravi had worked out an understanding with the local police and the government in Raipur to ensure the Maoists didn’t come in his way. Just a few months ago the Indian media got a whiff of how he was even paying out the Maoists to stay out of his land acquisition plans.
The problem, however, did not lie with the Maoists but the AdivasiSanghatans that were united in their resolve to not give up their land. The state resorted to rape, torture and violence to demoralize its own people just so that men like Mr. Agarwal can step in and mine these regions.
To people in the cities, the struggle put up by these hapless indigenous groups is the biggest threat looming over the democratic fabric of this country. For the tribal population, this is a fight to the end. With Mr. Agarwal using all his clout to capture these resources, the incumbent government is only too keen to hand these regions over to him.
The last one year witnessed unprecedented brutality by the state. Recently, an activist named Sanjeev died in police custody. He was beginning to become a nuisance to the local authorities. He was successful in mobilizing the local people to disrupt mining operations. He had the support of some student unions in Delhi which helped in broadcasting state atrocities within the national capital. Sanjeev was beginning to hog the limelight.
One night, when Sanjeev was asleep in a tribal hamlet in Bastar, the place was cordoned off by the central paramilitary forces. Two homes were burnt and every grain destroyed. On finding Sanjeev there, the commander in charge decided to call up the local police to inform them of the catch.
A man, who in broad daylight was leading protests in the full view of the public, had been branded a Maoist overnight. The local police in its entry book named Sanjeev as a Maoist informer. The entry further said that during the interrogation he snatched away constable Lakhi Jena’s revolver and tried to attack the other police men standing there. Constable Ram Singh showed tremendous courage and fired at Sanjeev from point blank range leading to his immediate death. The ambulance was immediately called for and the body sent for autopsy which confirmed death due to close range firing.
The walls of the lockup room in which Sanjeev was lodged would never tell that Sanjeev was brutally tortured and then electrocuted by the police. While he lay on the floor, heavy boots kicked and trampled every part of his body. With each assault, his body coiled, and when the torture went beyond his endurance, Sanjeev pleaded for mercy. This only gave more force to the torture, and one of the tormentors started hitting him with an iron rod. They wanted the names and whereabouts of some coMr.ades, but they wouldn’t get them. Sanjeev died of fatal internal injuries without uttering a name. When the prey had ceased to react to their brutal blows, one of the policemen pulled out his revolver and pumped three bullets into the chest of the lifeless body.
Sanjeev’s death was received with shock across most of the civil-society. The state defended itself and went on to confer constable Ram Singh with a bravery award. Sanjeev’s American associate, Hari, was a shattered soul. He was in utter disbelief as suddenly he was without his friend who was the reason for the many changes that had happened in his life. The many months he had spent with Sanjeev had got him closer to himself and his purpose. He was no longer a headless chicken but instead begun to revel in his new role of standing up for what was right.
When they had arrived in Raipur, Sanjeev got Hari acquainted with not just local literature on land acquisition but also the ideology and philosophy that drove him. There was much to read before Hari could begin to think or remotely feel the anguish of the local people. He spent his days accompanying Sanjeev on his many Sabhas. He spent his nights reading the available literature. Most of the literature was banned in this state though all of it was made freely available in the many libraries of the Delhi University. Being found in possession of this literature would lead to imprisonment under the draconian sedition act.
They soon moved to Bastar where they met more people from Delhi. Amongst them was Ramanna who was a journalist from Delhi covering the lives of activists like Sanjeev. For Sanjeev, it was an opportunity to spread his word amongst the people in metropolitan cities. Being a ringside observer at times and enthusiastically participative in local meetings, Hari began to lose his fear. The feeling of being fearless could not be expressed in words. Perhaps doing the right thing always meant doing it without fear.
When Sanjeev died, Hari could not fathom the betrayal he felt. It was said that the police and CRPF were working in close co-operation with the local Maoists. Sanjeev had started a passive revolution which questioned the sincerity of not just the state but also the Maoists. This had led to a tacit understanding between the CRPF and the Maoists who saw in Sanjeev’s elimination an opportunity to use a common scapegoat. For a few days, it would seem that the state had dealt with the single largest threat affecting India, and the Maoists would appear to have been broken and dis-united.
Soon after Sanjeev’s death, Hari fled the scene. He learned that Jyoti too was arrested and this meant it would only be a matter of time before they got to him. He decided to head back to Manali and then deliberate on his next move.
It was Janak Ram who came to Hari’s aid and told him to consider moving to Dehradun for a couple of months. He knew a contact who would help him find a place to stay and remain as obscure as he wished to be. The Ashram located in the foothills of the Himalayas was home to many a traveller who came there to explore their spiritual side.
While Ravi Agarwal was finishing his meeting with the minister, Hari was getting ready for the Kirtans at the Ashram. It had been four months since he had got here. The meditation and spiritual journey had helped him overcome the loss of his coMr.ade. The stay at the ashram had given him beautiful insights into India’s spiritual land. The experience has been rejuvenating. The occupants in the ashram are expected to do the basic cleaning, washing and even cooking. Discipline is not imposed but is expected in the way the occupants participate in the meditation sessions.
Mr. Agarwal finishes his formal meeting with the minister by 4:00pm. Outside the government building, he is surrounded by a swarm of waiting media persons. He chooses to stand his ground and appear at ease with the press. Perception mattered in a country like India, and he had to remind his countrymen that his was the story of a tea seller from Dhanbad.
Speaking into the camera he says, “Meeting the minister was heartening. After quite a while I am seeing a government that is talking about development. The bidding process will benefit the exchequer and this will help fund India’s social welfare programs.”
“There is growing unease in central India where your business interests lie. Are you happy that activists like Sanjeev are being eliminated?” One reporter asked.
“Sanjeev worked for the poor and I share his vision. His death is most unfortunate and the law will take its own course. I am sure the guilty will be brought to justice.”
Mr. Agarwal has a night to spare before he flies to the United States. Shwarps had written to him about a second meeting the Collective would be having with the republicans. He was informed that Theodore, Tim’s uncle, would like to have the currency issue discussed at length. Given Timothy’s inclination to sound socialistic, it would be only wise for him to talk of common rules for the whole world.
Joining them would be the entire Collective since no one wished to miss out an opportunity to meet the very popular Timothy Arnold, and put forward a slew of proposals in the name of free trade and development. The Ritz is where they all have been booked and it is where the meeting will take place. Tim had just finished making a speech in Detroit and it had made quite a wave across the world. Was this the beginning of a new era for the Republicans? Some keen observers who heard Tim’s speech did not hesitate to suggest that America was probably warming up to the rise of the third world. Does that mean the end of the status quo and the end of American hegemony?
Tim got to Washington a day before the meeting. He had promised to meet Debby. Chris and Ray meanwhile headed home to their respective states to catch up with their family. Being on the road with Tim meant zero time for personal life. It was only when important political figures take a break that their close aids get a breather. Tim has a suite booked two floors above the rooms the Collective would be checking into. Before Debby arrives, he is to meet Uncle Theodore. It has been a while since they caught up and spoke politics, business and life. Theodore was Tim’s go to man for any and every thing including his issues with Debby. In a way Tim was looking forward to this meeting. It always helped to know the mood within the business circles. His speeches were creating a flutter amongst the more influential sections of the society. His speeches questioned the very foundation upon which the rich in America were controlling the world.
When Tim arrived, Theodore was already there having helped himself to a whiskey from the bar. He had his eyes and ears on the news on television. Channels were running stories about the speeches various candidates were making. They were informing the American public how the candidates carried themselves in public life and the implications of all this on federal policy.
It was almost certain that Barbara would be the presidential candidate for the Democrats. Having had her own share of political experience, she was the democrats’ best foot forward in these elections. What this meant was that some of the new policy initiatives would be made keeping in mind the forthcoming elections. With the first lady being in contention, Richard was going to remove all stops to make a mark before demitting office.
That morning, just before Theodore got to the suit, Barbara and Richard were at a school in Mississippi attending the parent’s day function. The school had seen a vicious shooting only a few days ago, and their presence was meant to assure the American public that the Democrats were right in wanting to curb gun trade in the states.
Theodore is pleased to see his nephew after so long. They get into an embrace before moving to the living room where they sit on a couch facing the television where the news is playing.
“Detroit turned out well it seems.”
“Yes, it’s trending on the news.”
“How is business, Uncle?”
“Well, the war on terror is good for business, and it is only going to continue. This control on gun trade isn’t going to achieve much except scratch the surface of the real issue. The Democrats are buying time with this policy, but we need not worry.”
“The Collective is going with the Republicans and that goes without saying. But, which Republican they might choose, only time will tell. For now they are doing business with me, but soon there will be others in the race and then the Collective will have a larger pie to chew from.”
“That’s a risk we were always going to take. Warren is my only source within the party, at least ever since he has put me on this relentless election campaign”
Tim leaned back on the couch and closed his eyes. He thought about the tricky situation Warren had got him into. He owed his political career to the old man, but the patriarch played his cards close to his chest. Here was a boy who was managing Warren’s business interests, had lost his mother to him and now was unsure about his political future because Warren played him that way. There had to be a way out of this, at least so that he had better control over his political fortunes. Tim took a deep breath and stretched his legs.