Extra Political Affair
All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am.....
Wednesday, May 15th, 2019
I sat at the head of the oval desk surrounded by my counselors, party members, my lawyer and best friend Karan Sinha at my right, and my assistant Carol Fernandes to my left. She had also quickly become my most valuable employee who rose with me from the days of making phone calls to whip voters, to my confidante on the day I hoped to become the first Muslim woman Prime Minister of the largest democracy in the world. The days leading to the election are rocky ones, and the past week had been the worst. One hiccup after another, human errors piling up on natural mishaps, and finally, yesterday the opposition attacked me with the ultimate warhead at their disposal. The coup de grace. The incident I thought buried with my past.
They obviously had the information months before. They chose to keep it sealed until a day before a billion eligible voters went to vote. And it seemed to be working like a charm. The mock poll already showed a 70% decline in votes for the 'Delta People Party' or the DPP, the one I was a member of.
It was less than 24 hours before voting would begin. The party had to plan how to clear its image. I convened the meeting, and a group of the brightest political minds got to work.
I saw sleeves being rolled up, collars being unbuttoned, but not until I saw Karan yawn for the third time did I break the congregation for coffee. I walked to the attached washroom in my office to return a call I had earlier let ring till it disconnected. It was from my party head. He no doubt wanted an update of which I had none. I sprinkled cold water on my face. The reflection in the mirror wasn't all that bad. I was still pretty at 43, although the last few sleepless nights left a saggy black ring around the base of my eyelids. I made it a point to run thrice a week and I felt fit. Mentally though, I was a skyscraper collapsing in the midst of an earthquake, being reduced to rubble.
I went back to the day I was a 20 year old signing my name as a campaign volunteer. Such simple days those were. The bubbly girl next to me smiled, and I smiled back only out of courtesy. She introduced herself as a Carol something. The task they assigned me with, which I'm sure was because I'm a woman, was to call people enlisted in a phone directory and explain why they should vote for my party, 'Indians Party'. I don't really know why I had picked to work for them. They weren't good, but they were better than the others. I ended up sitting next to Carol, whose amiability made me like her by the end of the day.
A rap on the door brought me back to the present. It was Carol. We had to continue brainstorming and they needed me, the metaphorical head that kept the body functioning at full throttle.
"Do we have anything? Can we cover this up?” I asked.
"Ruwaida" a raspy voice called out my name. "You have admitted to us that it's not a scam, and that it in fact happened. Every politician in the world since the beginning of time has covered their flaws, their crimes and tied a tight blindfold around the very people who placed their trust in them through votes. Maybe you ought to do the opposite. Maybe you should, for once, be the politician who delivers the naked truth. Your voters deserve at least that much."
I knew Karan was right. It was a crime I had committed because I had to, if I wanted to be alive. It was a crime my father had willingly accepted as his own and gone to prison for. I begged him to let me face the repercussions of my action but he wouldn't hear it. "You have your entire life ahead of you, child. What happened with you shouldn't happen to any girl and it's her father's responsibility to make sure it doesn't. I have been a bad father, aloof and a drunkard. It is my crime. Just promise me you will make me proud", he said, the day he left to surrender. I had buried my past the day I saw my father hang lifeless on the noose.
"Karan. Fine." I said nodding to my greatest ally and my oldest friend. I turned to Carol, "Send out a press release, I will address the nation tomorrow at eight thirty am." I turned to my young panel of political aspirants, who worked for me in return for experience: "I want you to work with me on the speech. It is my only chance to prove to my people why they should vote for me. The rest of you can call it a day or stay back and help me"
Carol and Karan walked out together, followed by all of the party members. It seemed like my party was abandoning me. They were definitely contemplating it, and rightly so. They had to save the party after all. I looked at my remaining flock. Four young girls and three young boys, sprawled out in my large office. Some on the couch, and most on the floor, preparing to draft the speech, my Hail Mary pass.
I looked up from my bifocals, at the young souls hard at work. I was extremely distracted to focus. My mind raced to last night’s 8 PM breaking news, one that interrupted a journalist arguing with a municipal minister about battered roads. I was watching the argument, more to learn argumentative skills from the headstrong journalist than out of interest with the matter at hand, when I saw a picture of a little girl on screen.
It was my picture.
I bolted upright, just as my name flashed on the screen in bold. The headstrong journalist came on screen.
This just in, Lokha Sabha MP Ruwaida Khan, representing DPP, and India's favorite daughter, is a liar and a murderer!!
I stared at the screen, horrified, only too aware of what he was talking about. My past had caught up to me. The landline and two mobile phone's began to ring in encore. I ignored them, transfixed to the screen. Then the picture of the man I despised came on the screen. His face brought back the horror and trauma I had bottled down for over thirty years.
This is Muzamil Khan, Ruwaida's uncle and her father's brother. He was murdered thirty years back and Ruwaida's father was sent to prison for it. No one knew the reason why, until now. He was killed, not by the father, but by the MP herself!!
I was shocked. How did this happen! How did they find out!
Our sources tell us after her uncle's death their ancestral property went to Hussein Khan, her father, who was executed for his brother's murder after which all the property went to Ruwaida...
She could see where this was going. She turned off the TV. She picked up her phone. It was ringing, and the party leader's name was flashing on the screen. She had a lot of explaining to do. She was not yet convicted but her future in politics already looked bleak. One day before the election.
"Let's break for a snack." I said relieving the exhausted flock for an hour. I was surprised and proud to see all seven of them take out lunch boxes and dig in to their snack without looking up from their laptops. I however needed a break. I walked down to the canteen for a bite, maybe my last one in the government building that had been my home for years. The sullen thought took me back through time.
I was twenty one when I participated in my first political protest, ironically against the 'Indians Party', the same one I had helped put into power only a year back. The minority affairs minister Parul Pandey was clearly cheating the people and I couldn't stand idly by. With the help of Karan and a few of my neighbors we arranged a march, from Karol Bagh to India Gate, where we perched our tired behinds and sat in angry protest, chanting slogans on anti-corruption. We did the same the next day, only this time our numbers swelling ten times over. This went on for a week and when we showed no signs of backing down, the president intervened, promising to resolve the matter. That was my first political victory.
The next day an article was printed in the papers stating: Muslim girl disrupts peace and defames a reputed Indian MP. I was shocked to my very core. It was later revealed the editor was paid to print it and the paper retracted the article and published an apology the next day and fired the editor but the damage was done. Later that evening my mother told me something that was my armor through most of my political battles: "Do not let the words of jealous men and bruised egos bring you down. The MP is sacked and you have won. The people have won."
That was just the beginning. No drug can simulate the high of victory and no deed can induce more euphoria than one that warrants gratitude. I enrolled in three NGOs that summer. I was teaching English under a thatched roof in a remote village in the morning, protesting minority rights in the afternoon and cleaning the streets of Delhi with enthusiastic youth in the evening. My mother wanted me to pursue a master’s degree but I had learnt enough. The country needed hard working street smart people and not over qualified duds with numerous degrees.
I entered my office to see the young guns hard at work. I had to give a speech revealing enough without implicating myself. If I said something that could be held against me in a court of law, I would be convicted and not only would my political career be over, I would also be sent to prison for a very long time. My team was currently researching every law in the book and reading through the copy of the constitution I had, to formulate my speech. I would perform the last audit of the speech of course, fine tuning it to mirror my thoughts. But for now I had to wait for my team to prepare the first draft.
The first speech I wrote was for the chief minister aspirant, Kunal Kasi, of the newly formed 'Delta People's Party', the one I dedicatedly worked for since its inception, till date. I was made campaign in charge, in light of the social work I had been doing three years prior to its formation. After having delegated responsibilities, I sat to prepare the speech, and stood only five hours later, once I was satisfied with what I had conjured. The minister was greeted to loud applause the next day but the uproar that went up after he delivered the final punch line in my speech was deafening. I stood behind the curtains, a face unknown to the country, elated nonetheless. Kunal became the chief minister, and he appointed me his secretary. The landslide victory of the DPP dragged me into the Vidhan Sabha. My first taste of real politics.
I worked for the next 5 years as an official secretary and an unofficial, part time chief minister. Mr. Kunal, god bless his soul, was a humble man but humble men get run over in politics. I was his invisible crutch, updating him on current agendas and advising him on what and what not to do. He looked at me as his daughter and trusted my judgement. We had a good first term and he was re-elected. This time he awarded my service with a seat in the parliament. I was finally, an official minister of state.
Lost in thought I didn't notice Jaswant Singh, a young Punjabi with fiery passion to lead the nation’s defense operation walk to my desk with his draft. He specialized in criminal law and he was one of the key players in my troupe tonight. I took his copy and began reading while he crashed on the couch, stretching his tired limbs and resting his pagdi clad head on the armrest.
He reminded me of another Punjabi, in another time. Kulwant Kaur was my rival, and a formidable one at that, in the argument over how Delhi should be tackling its drought problem following a dry monsoon. I was still a young politician but my tactics and beliefs were fiercely strong and I had a reputation for being vicious in my dealings. I believed in spending state money to clean and purify the Yamuna, the river that supplies a large chunk of the water requirement, while he insisted on pressurizing Haryana into supplying more water. Men and their need for war. Of course cleaning a river was a bit of an out there idea, an idea that usually springs up and dies in the imagination, but I was adamant and I had a plan. My proposal passed through, just by a margin of votes, and the result is evidently successful even today.
These were the matters I most enjoyed taking up, the one's that sought to improve lives of the commoners. It was not planned but this very outtake made me popular with the general masses, a factor that would weigh in heavily on my path to the ultimate goal: The Prime Minister's seat.
All my interns handed in their copies and I read and re-read three of them. I picked the fourth one, drafted by Sandra Smith, a young engineer looking to improve the countries architecture and civil sector from the inside. As I read the fourth draft, outlining in rather detail how my uncle had abused me, the thoughts came flooding back.
I was a ten year old again. My dad would drop me off at school and drive straight to the local bar. He would spend the entire day there, stumbling home later at night, crashing on the bed without a shower or change of clothes. We didn't blame him. He used to work as a waiter, but a scuffle with a local mobster lost him his job and two front teeth. He went to the police and all that achieved was a loss of another tooth. He took the sacking and humiliation hard, seeking the comfort of the bottle, a comfort from which he never recovered. My uncle, my dad's brother, stepped up to support our family. At first it seemed like a genuinely good-hearted gesture. I soon learnt it was anything but good-hearted. When I was at school and my father was drinking his sorrows away, uncle would linger back home and abuse my mother, both physically and sexually. She never complained, because her daughter's school fees had to be paid. Soon his twisted psyche was not satisfied raping one woman, and he came after me. Every day, for 2 years, he raped me. One day when I got back from school I heard a scream. I ran up to my mother's room to see uncle forcing himself on her. I ran to the kitchen and picked the first thing I could find. I wonder even today, if it was my fortune or lack thereof, that I picked up a sharp kitchen knife. I ran in and stabbed the fat bastard in his neck. He squirmed for a while and fell silent. My mother pushed the limp body away and carried me out. We sat on the floor, me cradled in her arms until father got home and we told him everything. It was a rare sight that night, to see a man so lost in his drunken stupor, manage to shake out of it and comprehend the gravity of the situation in a matter of seconds. He told us to sit quietly and not speak of this to anyone and he would handle it. He called the cops and confessed to having murdered his brother after a drunken brawl. His breathe was enough proof. He was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. My crime was buried with his blessed and humble body.
I reached home as the early bristles of dawn were piercing through the sky. I sent my flock home to get well deserved rest, a luxury that would have to wait until my speech was ready to enjoy for myself. I took out a crisp A4 sheet and uncapped my Visconti fountain pen, a gift from Mr. Kunal Kasi when I made it to the Lokha Sabha. The journey was a rocky yet smooth, tedious yet refreshing one and the destination was fiercely challenging. Being a Muslim, I received a lot of friction from peers and being a woman made me a downright outcast. Not a lot of woman receive respect in Indian politics.
And now, after years of hard work, I was finally ready to contest for the most prestigious chair in the country, a spot of incredible power, one that would allow me to make positive changes propelling the country towards greatness.
But only if the people would forgive my crime.
My speech was prepared. The voting booths would open at 10 am, I had to make my speech at 8:30, giving the citizens enough time to warm up to me and giving the opposition too little time to react. In their minds I had already withdrawn and the party was retreating.
I decided to take an hour’s nap, giving my eyes some time to themselves and my mind an escape to the land of the serene, the valley of dreams.
I stood behind the lectern in front of the parliament house. A crowd of over a hundred had gathered in the lush open space, with media personnel representing around twenty news channels and papers in the front row. My team had arranged this gathering on a days’ notice and I made a mental note to thank them later. I adjusted the microphone and looked at the crowd. These were my people. I smiled.
Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work.
I pointed towards the sky as I quoted India's favorite President. Majority of the heads turned up on reflex, a sign that they were attentively listening. My confidence rose.
I've had a dream, for as long as I've been able to dream. Not one of being popular, like most girls in my class did. Not one of being powerful, like most of my colleagues did. Not one of being rich, like most of my friends did. My dream is to see India soar, to heights her adversaries thought impossible. I want to free India from the shackles of poverty and corruption, and make India the country her neighbors not only envy but also respectably fear.
A loud uproar broke out and I let it ring before continuing.
It's a sad fact really, that every Indian who dreams of betterment always finds themselves faced with defaming controversies that ultimately kill the dream and the dreamer. Now it is my turn. You are all aware of the accusations doled out on me last night. I am not here to justify myself. I am here to re-instill the trust you lost after the news boldly called me a murderer.
There was some whispering in the crowd. I rallied on
A true Patriot must always be ready to defend their country against the government. Edward Abbey has succinctly described the plight of our country's situation. People in power are always afraid to lose it, and often stoop so low as to taint a person's character just to shove them out of the race. I don't blame them, power is a drug addictive like no other. But is power more important than the entity that bestows it upon us? The government is an all-powerful body, only because the country it represents is almighty. Don't we then have a responsibility towards her?
I don't really understand how men and women who cannot read or write, are too old to stand on their own, are extremely narrow minded to understand advancing times, can lead a country of billions. I don't mean to offend anyone, but everyone, at the core of their souls, will know whether they are worthy of leading, and when they realize they are not, they must walk away! It is their moral duty!
The cheering took a while to subside. I basked in its warmth.
I am not here to brag. I want to simply say this: Your decision should lie solely with you. You must refer the vast ocean of information available in the media of course, but do not let it influence your judgement. Do not refrain from voting for me only because you heard something on the news that might or might not be true, and do not vote for me only because I'm asking you too. I felt it necessary to stand in front of you today and tell you I am not cowering away. I am praying to be blessed with a chance to help my country and I hope and pray you will support me.
With those words I walked away, to the sound of deafening applause.
Monday, May 27th, 2019
The crowd stood as the president took the dais. He gestured to the Prime Minister to take the oath.
I, Ruwaida Khan, do swear in the name of God, solemnly affirm that…….