Dear, you haven’t learnt the game yet. Those promises are to win the election, we aren’t obliged to uphold them once we’ve won. This learning comes from experience, you’ll get there soon, am sure!
The blinds weren’t fully down, moonlight streamed through them painting streaks of silver and black on the floor. The neem tree leaves waved their shadows, dancing to an exotic tune known only to them. The recessed lighting in the room fell gently on the teak desk, not intruding the peace the bust of Dr. Ambedkar was dwelling in.
Savitri toyed with the black Cartier pen in her hand, aimlessly looking around her office room, consciously avoiding to look up at the framed pictures of the men in her family. Tonight, she didn’t want to search for answers in their eyes, she knew deep inside that the time had come to create her own answers. Forty seven years of her life, they had pampered her, mentored her, molded and guided her, patronized her and at times even oppressed her. She did feel liberated, now that she was on her own, but also felt lonely at the same time.
A gentle knock at the door disturbed her conflicting thoughts.
“Didi, it’s getting very late. Shall I get you some dinner now?” an elderly man slantingly peeked his head in, holding the door of the room, as if he was guarding it from demons.
“No Shantaram, am not hungry. You don’t have to wait on me. Go sleep.”
“Tomorrow is a big day Didi. You need to rest well”.
“What does he know about tomorrow?!” she thought and smiled, despite the turmoil she was in. It always surprised her how the seemingly inconspicuous folks who take no active interest in the social, economic or political strata of the world they live in, are the silent wheels that keep the society running. Since the day she had started campaigning for the Lok Sabha election, Shantaram had been her overly concerned about her. He’d be in his early fifties, definitely elder to her, but had always addressed her as Didi since her childhood. Shantaram’s family has been loyal servants to Savitri’s family across generations, and he never had any qualms to respectfully address her as an elder sister.
“Mummyji had taken her medicines?” she gestured him to come in.
“Yes Didi, she did”, he paused as he entered the room. Clad in a cotton khaki shirt and dhoti, he fidgeted with the printed towel on his shoulder. Trying hard not to embarrass her, but still accounting for the day’s happenings, he added “like every other day”.
She sighed, her mom was still mourning for her brother, Ashok Deshpande. It’s been 6 months, but her mom still wears the panic stricken expression she had when she heard the news of her son being rushed to the emergency from a party rally. It was a fatal cardiac arrest. The city and the state grieved for the leader they had lost and her family was getting exhausted hosting dignitaries pouring in from all over the country. While few of them were genuine in their condolences, certain others rejoiced in the end of a political lineage which had served the nation for three generations. Their chances to enter the political arena appeared optimistic. She couldn’t avoid the questioning look in their eyes, scrutinizing her every move wondering if she’d venture to carry the mantle.
She was sure waiting for her turn, but she didn’t fathom it to be at the event of her brother’s death.
Soon after the funeral, when the party leadership had requested her family for a meeting, she knew all too well what it meant. She braved her mother’s accusations that she had coveted this position from her brother and that a daughter couldn’t claim to be the family’s political heir. She got busy campaigning in her constituency, ignoring her peers’ snide remarks that she had conspired her divorce years ago for her political aspirations. Sleepless nights, countless hours on the road, patiently listening to the people’s woes, promising them change, and above all, the trust that she had built among them, finally won her a landslide victory.
Shantaram sensing the flood of emotions raging through her at the thought of Mummyji, silently left the room, closing the door behind him.
Savitri didn’t realize he had left, but was grateful for his concerning intrusion. She decided to sleep over the matter, hoping she’d have the strength to do the right thing tomorrow.
Her meeting with the Chief Minister was at 10 AM and it was only 8 AM yet, but she wasn’t one of those tardy ministers who thought punctuality was for the weak. The car was waiting at the doorstep and as she hurried out her room, she glanced at herself in the mirror. Holding her blackberry, in a starched pink cotton saree with her Holii laptop bag slinging on her shoulder, she could have easily been mistaken for a CEO of a multinational enterprise. She prided herself that she’s more than that, she’s the nation’s Minister of Infrastructure.
An extraordinarily busy day at the CM’s office and his prior meeting was getting extended while she patiently waited at the lobby, drumming the two files in her hand. She promptly stood up as the CM opened his room while exchanging goodbyes with five men in business suits, unmistakably with loaded pockets. Catching sight of her, he affectionately greeted her and held the door as she walked in.
Seating herself in one of the chairs, she beamed her amiable smile, mustering all her wit.
“How are things dear, how is Mummyji doing? Better I hope”.
“She’s trying to get better, but you know how it is for her to have lost her only son”, Savitri had resigned to the fate that her performance was always perceived second to her pedigree.
“Hmm, unfortunate indeed, we all miss him. Ashok was a great leader. Anyways, am glad we have you here now! The ministry and party needs your leadership”.
“I much appreciate your support sir! You know that I’ve always counted on your guidance. Today’s meeting too is one such instance”.
“Ah! I did see your note on the meeting agenda, but please do brief me on what we plan to discuss!”
“Sir, I’ve decided to reject the proposal for Rathore’s Luxury Apartments”.
“Taking the bull by the horns in your first executive decision itself!! Let’s go slow and easy dear. You’ve had their proposal at your table for not more than two days I guess”
“But sir, I’ve reviewed all their documents. They’ve flouted every rule in the real estate code and their building plan approvals appear very fishy. I’ve attached my review forms along with their plans. I could walk you through”, she was at her confident best when she was rudely interrupted.
“Hold on Savitri, I believe you do know who had submitted that proposal. It’s from the Rathore’s”, the CM wore an incredulous look on his face.
“Yes sir, am well aware of their reputation. Their claim to the land itself is on shaky grounds, let alone their building plans. That land belongs to a group of farmers who had pledged their only source of income to loan sharks to manage the drought season. And those loan sharks are clearly Rathore’s goons. I have proof of the same”.
“There is no way those farmers could settle the debt that has collected over the years. They’ll eventually have to forfeit their land. Believe Rathore’s are just trying help end their misery quicker”
“Sir, am totally aware that am not the Minister of Agriculture. How much ever I may empathize with those farmers, I wouldn’t be able to help them fight the drought season, nor could I pardon their loans. But standing by my campaign promise, I would never let anyone cheat them on their properties”.
“Campaign promises!! Dear, you haven’t learnt the game yet. Those promises are to win the election, we aren’t obliged to uphold them once we’ve won. This learning comes from experience, you’ll get there soon, am sure! Moreover, you should understand whom you are taking on! The Rathore’s aren’t some street goons, they are the corporate ones, and their network runs deep within the government”
“But sir, with your support, I should be able to tackle them. I have no fear doing so!” she hoped flattery could do the trick.
“Listen Savitri, I certainly do not fear them. But they’ve donated generously to the party, term after term. It is in our best interests that we attend to theirs.”
“But sir, those farmers…”, her confidence was trailing.
“Hell with those farmers. They are losers anyways and will soon kill themselves. The party could handle that uproar by blaming the opposition party. You don’t have to trouble yourself dear. Yours is a simple task, just approve Rohan’s luxury apartments and we’ll only grow stronger in the party!”
She felt threatened but was not ready to give in, “Sir, I sincerely appreciate your advice. Had it been a different situation, I would have definitely aligned to it. But this isn’t a decision I’ve taken to add significance to my recent win, or for the paparazzi. I sincerely felt it my duty to review the proposal and do right by the people. And that’s what I’ve done” and she got up to leave.
“You still have time to reconsider. When the party weighs in, you’ll only find yourself in an embarrassing situation”
“I am cognizant of that sir. But we’ve crossed the time for reconsideration. I’ve already signed the rejection forms and have dispatched them. What I have with me here are just copies of the same.”
The CM gaped at her, “This is a grave mistake Savitri, and you’ll pay for this. The party wouldn’t condone this behavior”.
“But sir, the people and the media have already hailed our party for this decision of mine. While you were in your prior meeting, Facebook and Twitter handles were piling up with congratulatory messages for you, to have taken stern action on the Rohan’s and supporting the farmers” she was waiting for this moment to see the blood drain from his face.
It’s time the party realizes that she is a force to reckon and will uphold her constituents best interests, regardless of the pressure and intimidation that she may encounter. And that she’s a veteran in the game already!