How the ecosystem lives among us – A short story

It was 15th May 2014, and despondency hung heavy at Akbar Road and Janpath alike. Despite all the bluster and bravado of the past few months, the inevitability of what tomorrow would bring was sinking in. Of course, the magnitude of the disaster was something they were yet oblivious to, mercifully for them.

A gloomy faced general secretary was busy tending to the bonfire in the backyard, and two menials assisted him in adding files to the flames as they were brought in. A couple of convenient fire accidents, in key offices in Lutyens past few weeks ,had ensured a lighter load for them, but it was still enough for them to toil for hours on that hot May afternoon.

Inside, the Moon Face Mantri (MFM) and Chachaji were deep in discussion. They had the unenviable task of facing Mamma with the news. The coterie had, as usual, fed her what she wanted to hear – that the election was in the bag, and they would probably get a larger majority than last time. She had enquired, a couple of times, about the wave that everyone seemed to be taking about, but they had assured her that there was no such thing. But now finally the truth had to be told.

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Bhaijan met them outside the house, his grim face reflecting their own mood, and led them to her presence. The usually blank face bore a deep frown, which deepened on seeing the trio. She sat cross armed and stared at them as they stood like unruly schoolboys in the Principal’s office. Without asking them to sit, she raised an eyebrow at Bhaijan, indicating that he could start speaking. Being the most trusted aide, he was the only one who dared to break the bad news, and now he did in detail.

The stony face slowly turned red as the aide spoke of a future that appeared dimmer and dimmer. After he had finished speaking, there was a long, painful silence as Mamma looked from one face to the other. Then MFM spoke up hesitatingly, “But don’t worry ma’am. It’s a matter of five years, if not less. And we have our contingency plans in place.”

Her stare was surpassed only by her tone in iciness, as she asked, “What contingency plan?”

Bhaijan was called away by an urgent call, leaving the two to explain. “We are leaving enough ’Deep Assets’ to ensure that they don’t have a smooth tenure. In fact, I would be surprised if they are able to get anything done at all. And if that doesn’t result in a mid-term election, it certainly won’t allow them to be re-elected after five years are over. Don’t you remember 2004?” Chachaji was at his smoothest, and was rewarded by a slight nod.

“Deep Assets?” She asked. “What Deep Assets?” Chachaji gave a semi-toothless grin and said, “We have a robust ecosystem in place. We have been very generous in sharing our .. ahem… ‘profits’ and in patronising the right kind of people over the years. Media, Bureaucracy, Intelligentsia … you name it, they’ve been our beneficiaries. It’s these people who will help us out in our times of difficulty.”

“Besides,” butted in MFM not wanting Chachaji to shine alone, “there are enough policy “Time Bombs” that will keep them on their toes for a while. The Pay Commission itself will ensure that no one is satisfied, and give recommendations that will show the government in very bad light. There are reservation promises we have made to this group and that. Then there’s the subsidy bill from our populist schemes.”

Seeing the slight thaw in her icy demeanour, Chachaji felt encouraged to elaborate further. “For years we have built up a narrative about our secularism vis a vis the ‘communalism’ of the saffron brigade. Now’s the time for us to say “we told you so!” India is a violent country. Every day there are dozens of murders, lynchings, arson, rapes, suicides… Been going on for ever, and bound to continue. But now, we will make people believe that each such crime is due to the hate that the ruling dispensation has – for minorities, for Dalits – whoever the victim may be. We will ensure media outrage, candle-lit marches, dharnas…”

“Hmmm…” she stared at the wall pensively. “But are you sure that the people will fall for that?” “Oh! Our biggest weapon is doubt. Said MFM. Put doubts in people’s minds, and once the narrative is repeated often enough through different sources, even the staunchest of their supporters will start having some doubts. And it’s not as if we have to prove anything in any court – just make them look bad again and again, at every opportunity, till people actually start believing it.”

“We will create doubts about every step they take. Added Chachaji. Every action, every policy, every scheme. We’ll blindly call everything a failure. We’ll create doubts about every institution – the RBI, Election Commission, the Judiciary, the banking system. We have most of the media and a lot of credible voices under our obligations – economists, professors, analysts, NGOs, activists. They’ll all sing our tune.”

“But won’t they have an advantage once they’re in power? Why should the ecosystem continue to support us?” She asked. MFM and Chachaji looked at each other, amazed that someone who had been at the helm of affairs for so long could be so out of touch with reality. “No no Ma’am.” MFM blurted. “You see, these fools want to actually provide a ‘clean’ government.

That would deprive the entire ecosystem of the lucre they have become so used to. And if they actually want things to get done, the babus will have to work. They won’t like that either. They will do anything to restore status quo ante of no work and all money – nudged along by us of course. As we know so well, it’s the bureaucracy that is responsible for execution, and no matter how good any policy is, if we sabotage the execution, it will all end up in naught.”

“And the corruption cases? Won’t they go on a witch hunt after all of us? What if we land up in jail?” She asked worriedly. Chachaji smiled and said, “Oh they will try. But the ecosystem is widespread, and includes the entire law and order system. The investigative agencies will file half-hearted cases, and the judges won’t be able to rule against us even if they want to. Besides, we have covered our tracks pretty well. So the cases will get dismissed one by one, and then we can cry political vendetta. That would help us tremendously in the next elections.”

“And then of course, we won’t let parliament function at all. We will keep disrupting it on some pretext or the other, so that they can’t make any worthwhile legislation.” MFM chimed in. “And we will keep crying about the economy. Again, it’s the perception which matters. We can always find something to cry about even if it’s doing reasonably well, and sow doubts in people’s minds.”

“And you think all this will ensure our return in 2019?” She asked. “Of course.” Chachaji replied confidently. “All this, combined with our trump card – divide and rule. Religion. Caste. Region. We will pit lower castes against upper, Muslims against Hindus, States against the centre. Our job is to ensure that the government is busy dealing with crises, clashes and agitations. So busy that they don’t get any time for ‘development’ that they take so much pride in. Because heaven help us if they manage to do even a portion of what they have done in Gujarat. We can forget getting re-elected ever.”

MFM glared at Chachaji. “Are we here to to appease her fears or to increase them?” He thought. “But don’t worry ma’am. We won’t allow that to happen. Trust us.” He said out aloud, trying to retrieve the situation. She wasn’t fully convinced, but was in a slightly better mood by the time the two left. Back in the car, the two heaved a sigh of relief. “Tell me Chachaji,” MFM asked “Even if we place ourselves at an advantage in 2019 as planned, what will we do about the Prince? We can never win with him at the helm.”

“I’ve thought of that too.” Said the wily old fox grinning ear to ear. “We give him a free run the next few years. Make him believe that he’s the biggest leader since Gandhiji, feed him only what he wants to hear. He will do what he’s best at – shoot himself on his foot so many times that by the time elections come around, he’ll be ready to step down on his own.”

“That’s when I will take over.” Both of them thought, but said nothing.

Author’s note: All characters and events mentioned are imaginary and have no connection with any real ones.

A former Army officer, now a Learning and Development consultant, Author of ‘Delhi Durbar 1911 – The Complete Story’, ‘Riding the Raisina Tiger’, ‘Brave Men of War – Tales of Valour 1965’ and ‘In the Line of Fire’. Currently also a research fellow at Ministry of Defence, engaged in writing official history of India’s participation in First World War. Blogs at swordarm.in

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