Literature & Fiction | 27 Chapters
Author: Virag Dhulia
When Rishabh Tanwar returns to Lucknow after completing his MBA in London, he gets kidnapped during the elections. Post elections, Uttar Pradesh prepares to welcome the youngest CM of India. However, shortly after commencing office, the CM is booked for a crime he didn’t commit.The needle of suspicion points to a retired judge who has scores to settle with the CM.What follows is an excruciating journey for the accused CM to save not only his sk....
Few months back:
20th June, 5:30 AM, Tuesday, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India:
The Sun has just risen. The lonely streets of Lucknow, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh coming to life slowly. The milkman must wake up and deliver milk to his waiting customers and the newspaperman must deliver the newspaper to people awaiting to know how the world is running. As the clock ticks by, and the Sun carves its ellipse across the horizon, the buzz gets to set roll across the street.
Manish Saxena is mustering courage to get up, after remaining awake the whole night almost, walking in his corridor in his classic Nehru suit, figuring out ways to improve the election campaigning of his party – Pradesh Jan Dal. Manish, who’s the party general secretary, aged around 45, has been largely responsible for Dal’s victory in the previous elections and this time too, expectations from him are high so that Dal can retain its position and form the next Govt. post the elections, due after a couple of months.
Manish and his party have to face the double edged sword of public and media criticism as they have been in power since the last 3 consecutive terms, with this being the third one, nearing its end. They have been in power spanning almost 14 years of unchallenged reign in the area as well as the conniving politics of Lok Sewa Party – their arch political rival headed by Prakash Tanwar.
Unlike Manish, who’s rising in his political career, Prakash Tanwar, on the other hand, is a seasoned politician. Prakash, aged around 70, has a son Rishabh who is currently studying in London and not much was known about him until recently rumors started floating about a plausible return of Rishabh to India and to give an image makeover to the dwindling prospects of Lok Sewa Party, headed by Prakash, so that they can topple Dal and form their own Govt.
With the news of Rishabh returning to India gaining ground, the media relaxed as they need not worry about “breaking news” anymore for some weeks to come. With very little information available about Rishabh including his latest photograph and how he looked, the existing tapes were run and re-run, a trick which worked seamlessly for the media. And the running commentary was enough to boil the blood of Manish and other Dal leaders. Manish was working tirelessly to garner funds for their election campaign.
Although, Pradesh Jan Dal had been in power since the last 2 terms, it was nothing in comparison to the previous 4 consecutive terms of power by Lok Sewa Party during which it had amassed massive wealth and finance avenues and thus it was less bothered about funds compared to Dal. Had it not been for Mukesh Tanwar (Prakash’s younger brother) and his flamboyant antics of a lavish lifestyle, the Lok Sewa Party would have never been overthrown.
However, with time passing and short public memory, the misdemeanors of Mukesh were fading away and new hopes were taking shape with the speculated arrival of Rishabh as the Lok Sewa party was spending heavily on his brand building and PR. This was a worrisome cause for Manish as allegations of corruption and nasty moral alliances of Pradesh Jan Dal with crony capitalists was like an icing on the cake for the Lok Sewa enthusiasts.
Madhurima Sen, working for NBTV was waiting with bated breath to get Manish and Rishabh on a fiery political debate on her show, “The Nasty Fight” so that her dwindling news channel can get some TRPs and she can take the much awaited vacation, she’s been asking for months.
While, Sourabh Chanda working for Today’s Times would seem more interested in revealing the strategy of Lok Sewa Party to catapult back to power so that his iconic party Jan Dal can continue to be in power. He would keep texting Manish about the moves Lok Sewa Party may take. And this forms one of the sources for Manish to shape strategy for poising their party. Manish has realized that the Jan Dal must get some more industrialists on their side despite criticism because in today’s age, PR matters.
He is using his contacts at the center as well to move a few cards here and there to woo the business houses, by hook or by crook. “All is fair in love and war,” Manish would think wryly.
And for larger welfare of people, a few people must give their sacrifice but it needs to done diplomatically. Churchill’s definition of diplomacy being the art of selling a trip to hell in such a way that people actually look forward to it, was coming handy to Manish who was ushering in hope and waiting for the call to arrive.
Before that, the newspaper arrives and also his servant comes calling him for breakfast. Manish, reluctantly nods about him being at the breakfast table in two while glancing at the news headlines. Manish stays in a bungalow which is surrounded on all sides by greenery. His room is the most interior with its balcony facing the back side of his house, while the dining table is in the outer room. Manish must cross at least 2 rooms to reach there. As he settles down at the dining table where his servant is slowly laying down the breakfast items, Manish’s glance falls upon the newspaper with the following headlines.
“Rishabh Tanwar to set foot in India over the weekend?”
“Will Rishabh Tanwar be the messiah of the poor?”
“The crony capitalist savvy politics of Jan Dal to come to an end?”
And just for his solace, Manish reads a small headline in favor of his govt.
“Will the Jan Dal be lucky the fourth time?”
As soon as he is done with the breakfast, his phone rings.
An authoritative baritone on the other side says,
“I have managed a tele-meeting with Mr. Das. Keep it brief and be specific.”
“Got that, I owe you one for this.”
“The time of the call is 10 AM and make sure you remember that Mr. Das works by nanoseconds, so do not delay. I repeat, do not delay.”
“You have my word,” says Manish and the call disconnects.
Mr. Das is a highly placed official in the Union Ministry of Agriculture and if he is convinced with Manish’s proposal, he is going to sanction a major move across India for overhauling agricultural aspects countrywide. Manish’s bait in it is local though, but is awaiting anxiously for a chance to revive the dwindling prospects of Pradesh Jan Dal in the upcoming assembly elections.
“Tring”’ goes Manish’s cellphone as Swati murmurs from the back as she moves in to the dining room, “Looks like I also need to call you to get your time.”
Swati, Manish’s wife juggles her life between the wife of a politician and a social worker and being a mom to a teenaged son occasionally. Now, she was a mom vying to get the attention of her husband to discuss Utkarsh’s (their son) admission to an engineering college.
Manish gives a helpless look to her and excuses himself as he moves to the outside lawn to attend the call. It was the CM on the other side.
“I am counting on you. We are losing time and chance both at a rapid rate”
“I understand totally, I am on my toes. Give me some time. I will hopefully update you with something to cheer up.”
“It better be so” and the CM disconnects the call.
Gururaj Chouhan, the CM was a no-nonsense fellow, at least that’s how he would like to be projected in the media but he had been in the media for all the wrong reasons this time. With little control over the people around him, the fate of almost all the welfare schemes started by his Govt. hung in a state of coma and the Tanwars did not leave any stone unturned in dragging every small issue to the assembly and make life tough for the CM and his party fellows.
Manish didn’t hold any portfolio but used to work in the background pulling strings here and there, occasionally using his contacts at the Centre which he developed because his father had been a Union minister at a time. Using all this, Manish had brought in some stabilization for the Govt. Also, his excellent debating and oratory skills made him the favorite of Chouhan and the envy target of many others.
As he entered back into the dining hall, Swati was still waiting there.
“Hello sir, can I get an appointment?,” sarcasm laced her voice.
“Stop it, what is it?”
“It’s Utkarsh, we need to finalize the college. At least take some interest, he is your son after all.”
“Uhmmm, well thanks for reminding. But I need to remind you that the fate of the Govt. of this entire state right now literally depends on this father of Utkarsh, so my dear mother of Utkarsh, if you can please spare me this domestic squabbles, I will be much obliged. You have the money, just get it done and now, if you will excuse me I have got better things to do than just cherry pick a college. Pick any one, how does it matter? We all know his destiny.”
“Make sure your speeches are at least 10% of what you deliver at home just to make sure I need to carry all the load”
And before Manish could say a word, Swati was gone.
He took a deep breath and saw the watch. It was 8:30 AM. He still had 90 minutes before his scheduled call with Mr. Das.
Manish settled down with the newspaper when a text message on his mobile distracted him.
“He is landing here this weekend” – Sourabh Chanda.
“Okay, let’s see how it goes” – Reply
While Manish wants to remain away from Rishabh, at least for the time being, his media friends and foes, however, think otherwise.
And as he was just planning to send a message to Chanda, it was Madhurima on his mobile with her SMS.
“Is it true that Rishabh is landing in India this weekend?” – Madhurima
Five, ten, fifteen, twenty……, and no reply from Manish.
Madhurima curses Manish and constantly works on trying to get his attention so that she can put across the proposal of inviting him and Rishabh on her show, “The Nasty Fight.”
But ever since, she did that story, “Manish Saxena: The minister without the portfolio” in which she tried to make a point that Pradesh Jan Dal is running not because of its competence and good governance but because of the shrewd politics played by Manish in the background, and after that story being aired, Manish never spoke to her.
The clock was racing towards 10 AM faster than usual as it would appear to Manish who was preparing himself for the call. He felt like appearing for an entrance exam, waiting to enter the hall, get a glimpse of the question paper and then wonder, “Do I know anything here?”
It was 10 AM and it was time. Manish picks up the receiver of the antique phone on his desk and dials the number he got earlier this morning.
“Hello, Das speaking,” a rather assertive tone spoke.
“Good morning Mr. Das, its Manish Saxena this side, calling from Lucknow, on behalf of Pradesh Jan Dal Govt. Mr. Robert must have given you my reference.”
“Sir, we are an agricultural country, but I am sorry to say, our ministry is not doing enough for the farmers, farmlands and agricultural development”
“I am not sure if I follow you and I definitely do not concur with your views on the work we’ve been doing for our farmers. Also, I have a very busy schedule, so if it’s general criticism then I would like to talk to you some other time unless you have a specific proposal in your mind”
“Sir, let me give you a local example, if you may permit”
“We have a river in our state which goes by the name of Gomati. This river also flanks our state capital Lucknow. However, there are vast stretches of its banks which are just marshlands. If we can convert those marshlands into farmlands, it will not only boost the agriculture but also lead to increase in employment for farmers as well as other labor classes as the project would be huge.”
“This is a state matter, why are we even discussing it?”
“Sir, as I said, it was just an example. Please consider the rest of India as well before dumping this idea and if we can come up with some state-center partnership, it will be overall development”
There’s a second’s pause.
“Sir? Mr. Das?”
“I am there. Let me consider your proposal and get back to you.”
The call disconnects. Manish would like to tell himself that the call went well but is seasoned enough in politics to understand its ebbs and highs. “Many a slip between the cup and the lip” thought Manish. And this adage is tailor made for politics. So, “unless you are doubly sure, you never pronounce V as well, let alone announcing victory” he shrewdly observed.
The idea behind all this melee was very simple. Get the center to announce a scheme for conversion of marshlands to farmlands. Use that money in election funding, advertise the scheme to attract the attention of the corporates who would flock to develop the agricultural Special Economic Zone (SEZs) around the newly converted farmlands. The farmlands would take at least 3–4 more years before being cultivation ready and that time would be used to monetize the concept and make hay while the sun shines.
However, only if life was that simple. First of all, it was tough to say, whether the center would announce such a scheme in such a short notice of time or not and even if it did, the fact that there were a plethora of slums that had sprung up in close proximity to these marshlands cannot be ignored. Also, the commercial value of these marshlands is negligible and no one bothers about them and that was another issue.
But, if the scheme does get announced, it will surely soar the real estate prices for these slums as well and they are going to become the bone of contention for vying corporates looking to consume a pie of the sprawling real estate. Notwithstanding the fact, that the slum dwellers’ rehabilitation is going to be a task in itself.
Of particular interest was a small slum that went by the name of Daliganj, which lay close to the banks of Gomati River flanked by a marshland which was a convertible once the scheme as discussed with Mr. Das over phone materializes. Daliganj was special for the history it shared with the state politics.
Mr. Das was the Chief Secretary to the Union Minister of Agriculture. All welfare schemes were designed by him and only if he gives the nod, the scheme would get a go-ahead. The minister was just the face. So, convincing Das was the key. And for that, Manish had played the masterstroke. Instead of approaching Das directly, he approached him through Robert.
Robert Gomes is a business tycoon heading a group of companies. He was a billionaire and a key donor of the party at the Centre. So, if he moots a proposal it would also mean support of the larger business community. Also, Das was already calculating the benefits of being hailed in the media as a farmer’s party especially amongst rising reports of farmer suicides.
But the problem for Das is that if he just nods, then it looks like a favor from the Govt. directly helping the industrialists. Owing to a socialist dominated media, no Govt. wants to be projected as corporate-friendly, even though they may do all covert activities to keep their corporate friends happy. So, now Das must look at a way to pass the scheme in a farmer-friendly way which will be projected positively in the media.
So, he puts a rider that for 2 years, no SEZ can be built around the newly converted farmland however, it did not specify if the SEZ construction can start or not within 2 years, it shouldn’t end before 2 years pass from the date of conversion of the marshland to farmland. So, it was still corporate friendly as nothing stopped them from starting the SEZ and then delay its completion. With this confusing rider built in, Das was sure of promoting the scheme as farmer friendly.
He then just needs to wait. There were 3 more days to go for the weekend, it being the 20th of June today, a Tuesday. Manish had no idea what would happen after Rishabh lands in India and was somehow hoping, if they could announce the new farmer friendly development after Centre’s nod. He calls Robert and briefs him about his call with Das. Robert just listens to it and says, “Let me see what’s in his mind.”
Robert and Das were anyways scheduled to catch up over lunch as usual and Robert was looking to read his mind during the lunch.
“What would you like to eat today?” Das asks Robert.
“Well, the usual, Italian Salad, a couple of breads and tomato soup with lentils.”
“So, what’s your idea on Manish’s proposal?” Robert intrudes.
“Uhmmm, today the weather seems to be nice. Only, it’s unpredictable.”
Robert could sense a positive development but also read some constraints.
“Anything stopping us? I hope it’s not major.”
“Aah no, the only uncertain part is the media, you never know, how they interpret things.”
“Don’t worry about it, I will ask my friends to pass appropriate directions down their hierarchy” (what Robert meant was that he would ask his business friends who owned media channels to play the story appropriately.)
Das looked relieved and said, “Well, then let’s party.”
It was a hint to go ahead. But Robert wanted to be sure as he was aware of Manish’s situation.
He asked, “Can we party before the weekend?”
Das smiled and left the place. The answer was obvious.
21st June, the next day, the newspapers were filled with the news about the land notification and Centre’s nod to convert marshlands into farmlands. Robert’s assurance worked, by and large the media hailed the decision and called it farmer friendly.
Manish heaved a sigh of relief after getting “Good Work” SMS from Chouhan, the CM.
21st June 9 AM, London:
Last exam of the last semester is no less than an India-Pakistan cricket match in world cup. Just the way, the Indo-Pak match is more important for cricket fans on both sides of the border than the world cup final itself, similarly, this day is more important than the day of actual results or convocation. And just the way, there’s tension, thrill, fun and nervousness in an Indo-Pak match, so is this last exam of the last semester mired in. And it doesn’t matter what course it is, the feelings are same be it engineering or management.
Rishabh Tanwar was getting ready in his apartment for his last exam of the last semester of his business administration from the International School of Business, London. Back in India, Rishabh belonged to the rich Tanwars who were at the helm of affairs for the Lok Sewa Party in Lucknow. His dad, Prakash Tanwar was a seasoned politician and a shrewd businessman with shrill business acumen. For him, politics was also a business and he looked at it from the ROI perspective.
MBA course was just an eyewash for Rishabh. Politics ran in his blood and he had grown up seeing an atmosphere of hooliganism and power economics. The layer of sophistication his international business school brought was just a chameleon’s superficial skin which would change color at the drop of a hat.
All the best baby – pop came a text on his phone.
Maria had become a cause of concern for Rishabh as she wasn’t aware that the very next day of the last exam, he was flying back to India and wouldn’t care about the degree as well.
“How do I tell her? Will she understand, that there’s years of preparation for this day and the rumors of my return to India has been selectively leaked to the media just to create a controversy there?” murmured Rishabh to himself while he was setting out of his apartment to write his last exam.
Thanks dear, let’s catch up for lunch post exam? Rishabh replied.
Maria loved him from her heart and was also planning to propose him today. Her exams were over as she was a year younger to Rishabh in academics and she was just waiting for Rishabh’s exams to be over.
Rishabh was more tensed about his meeting with Maria rather than the exam. She was a good girl and he didn’t want to hurt her as he considered her as a good friend and he liked her too. But, his options were limited given the circumstances. On one hand, it was the question of his family’s prestige and political future and on the other hand, his personal feelings. Clarion call of duty or Cupid was his toss and he kept cupid aside.
Hurriedly, he finished his exam, least bothered about results. He knew the degree was anyways going to come. As he walked towards the cafeteria, his heart pounded since he was trying to figure out how to break the news to Maria that he’s flying back. She wasn’t aware of his political roots as well. Rishabh had kept it under wraps and just told everyone that his dad was a mediocre businessman in India and that he was here on scholarship.
As Rishabh saw Maria, he froze.
Not only that she was looking stunning in an orange gown and velvet shawl wrapped around it, but she was carrying a bouquet of red roses which made Rishabh see his fears eye to eye.