Lately, Baba had not been able to sleep well. The heat in Delhi, as compared to Amethi, was unbearable. He folded his sleeves and saw the light flashing on his phone, reminding him of messages he had not yet seen. It can wait, he thought.
Managing Pidis had been a simple matter; India was much more complicated, and constant interruptions were a nuisance. Pidis were simply more efficient—he issued an order and the job was done. In Delhi, the bureaucrats were just not obeying—every time he unveiled a new idea, they cited transparency, arguing that anti-corruption laws prevented them from doing what he wanted them to do. The NYAYaadheesh(s) weren’t much help either—courts had blocked three of his initiatives. And the senior bureaucrats kept responding to his rote instructions in writing, copying other officials in their response. That was the biggest change from MSM—the bureaucrats here behaved as though they ruled the country. He felt he was in a foreign country; Lutyens’ Delhi no more a foreign capital.
The one man he relied upon implicitly was Ahmed Patel, his home minister. But even his performance without illegal money had been faltering. When they had truckloads of cash, Patel could be relied upon to send him detailed accounts of what everyone did, moment by moment. After demonetization, his reports were always inaccurate.
Take NCBN, his deputy prime minister. How hard was it to track him? You could spot him from a mile (shame on chameleons). But the recordings of his phone calls were not of much use. The silly man kept speaking in Telugu, and the YouTubers in Germany often took a full week before sending the transcripts back via Pidi’s mouth, the only messenger who could be trusted. The tapes of Mamata Banerjee’s conversations were much worse—her accent was so hard to follow that it was impossible for the transcribers to figure out if she was speaking in Bengali or English.
He ate his packet of chips. He didn’t like the taste. Probably the factory didn’t produce good potatoes. All along he had believed that the potatoes in those factories were reverse engineered from the Italian white gold he sent. But apparently, there were some farms here, which supplied chips to Delhi (why had nobody told him that?). Each morning the first flight from Amethi brought him potatoes from the food park in Amethi, but some days the flights were delayed, like today.
Baba left his new residence in New Delhi, in a car with outriders and the new Indian flag, the tricolour with a moon in the middle. There were still many parts of India where people kept using the old flag, with the Ashoka Chakra. He wanted the Ashoka Chakra banished—after all, after the Kalinga massacre Ashoka renounced violence and turned to Buddhism and became a pacifist. What would be the point? Immediately after Delhi, his father was India’s prime minister. Now, who was right?
He was certain people would accept the new flag. And then, slowly, he would have the saffron and the white removed. And the flag would be gloriously green. But that would take time. Indians are an accepting lot, he knew. How easily they had accepted the new national anthem, Hallelujah.
He looked with satisfaction at the workers dismantling the elaborate barriers that blocked access to Race Course Road, now renamed Rajiv Gandhi Marg. One of his regrets was that the night of the election results, Narendra Modi had left for the US, ostensibly before his visa expired. One of his first acts upon coming to power was to cancel his diplomatic passport. He thought the Americans would then send him back, or at least not let him in. But they did, on “humanitarian grounds” (must read up what humanitarian grounds are, he had made a note to himself on his PidiPad then). Baba wanted to ask Americans to extradite him, but his foreign minister Naveen Patnaik threatened to withdraw his MPs if he did so. From that day, Patel was told Patnaik’s email account too had to be monitored.
He had no choice but to accept bullying by regional leaders. When the din and dust of electioneering had ended, Baba went to a tiring tour of Thailand, on return, the Baba-led Indian National Congress (INC) had won only 148 seats in the new Lok Sabha—the figure was much higher than the BJP’s 105, but much lower than the 335 that National Herald’s poll had predicted for the INC. It could hardly be described as a resounding victory, and the INC was woefully short of a majority.
Like several Indian prime ministers before him, he’d have to forge a coalition. Digvijay Singh offered to help, but Baba did not trust him. NCBN had agreed to support him, but demanded a big pound of flesh, his speech writer Salil Tripathi told him. Baba had no idea NCBN was non-vegetarian. Yeh ghaas phoos waale logon ka saleekha hi alag hota hai, he said, reminding Tripathi that herbivores followed different customs. Tripathi asked Hartosh Singh Bal—who was writing a book on the rise of secular politics in India—to explain, and Bal told Baba that actually “pound of flesh” was a turn of phrase from the Shakespearean play, The Merchant of Venice.
“Don’t remind me about Venice and my naani, she stoppped my Chhota Bheem” Baba retorted angrily, and that was that. “Baba gusse mein hain (Baba’s angry)” Patel told the two Pidi intellectuals. “Aap log jaiye(you’d better leave).”
Tripathi was right in referring to the pound of flesh. NCBN was willing to let Baba be the prime minister for the first two years, but he wanted to take over on the second anniversary. The prime ministership in the fifth year would go to the leader under whom growth was higher during their two-year reign. Baba was worried—what if? To prevent Naidu, he decided to keep Didi, Akhilesh, Mayawati, Sharad Yadav, Sharad Pawar, Arvind (really?) on his side as reserve power.
As he passed the Afzal Guru Maidan, he wondered what that crafty Bihari, Lalu Yadav, was up to. Yadav had been meeting Shashi Tharoor this past week when he was in the infirmary (exasperated word for hospital) and Baba himself hadn’t had the time to visit him. Swarajya, the magazine which now operated from abroad, had reported they were plotting a vote of no-confidence against him. Shashi would take a chunk of female MPs and support Yadav from outside. The BJP would also support, and then withdraw support, forcing fresh elections. And what would be its outcome, if Modi’s health kept worsening? Too many things that could not be controlled.
He had at least neutralized Amit Shah, who was now in Tihar jail, held on fake encounter charges. But the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had told him that Shah genuinely had performed his duties as Gujarat HM. Even Rajnath Singh, whom he had spared because he knew very little anyway, had no idea what happened to the money United Progressive Alliance (UPA) politicians had accumulated over its almost 10-year rule and Modi had brought back during his tenure. He would release Shah if the Americans would promise him Modi, he had decided, as a gesture of goodwill towards Americans, the way Chinese leaders do, releasing dissidents before a Washington visit. But he wasn’t lucky like his father to have a bargaining chip like any Warren Anderson, so he hadn’t risked that.
Baba’s one serious regret was that Yogi Adityanath had managed to escape to Vietnam. Yogi had fled even though there were strict instructions at the Delhi airport to look out for him. But he had left from Lucknow, where the order was ignored because it was not translated in Hindi due to south’s languages’ imposition. Baba wanted those officials fired, but law and order being a state subject, the UP chief minister’s office had ignored Baba’s note. Yogi had well-wishers in the state government.
Baba’s convoy drove through Ajmal Kasab Road, turning sharply on Yakub Menon Avenue. He returned to his iPad to read his favourite newspaper, National Herald. All government officials were now required to read National Herald first. His information technology (IT) cell had configured all desktops such that their browsers would open only to National Herald’s home page, and unless they clicked on at least five articles, no other website would open.
In a few weeks the IT cell would report to him on the field trials, to test the new surveillance software he had encoded on the chips of the new generation of biometric Nyay cards. Then Patel’s burden would reduce, and it would be possible to track all Indians.
At the end of his first hundred days in office, Baba’s major achievement was the taming of the BJP Media volunteers. Advaniji may be old, but he had been right—when asked to bend, the media crawled! OpIndia was closed; Abhishek Banerjee was teaching applied mathematics at the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore (duh!); Rightlog had become a listicle oriented website after Buzzfeed bought it; Postcard kept its website alive by publishing anonymous polls on college reviews.
Journalists were also taken care of: Rahul Roushan had retired, setting up a handloom boutique in Connaught Place (which was to be renamed Hafiz Saeed Chowk on Christmas); Nupur J Sharma had gone back to her business; Nirwa Sharma taught comprehension at The Doon School; Sandeep Kadian was covering county cricket; and K Bhatacharjee was published nowhere. Vivek Agnihotri was in protective custody, as CBI sleuths were illegally going over the funding of his films; Nitin Gupta’s passport had been cancelled so he could not go abroad to perform; Aadit Kapadia had applied for citizenship in USA changing his podcasts to MyUSA.
The one man Baba could not trust was his defence minister, Sharad Pawar. The Maratha strongman had to be cajoled to join the cabinet, and Pawar had agreed only after reports emerged in the Western media that Pakistani troops had made successful incursions into Indian territory along the Line of Control, and Chinese troops had entered Arunachal Pradesh (Baba’s first thought was that they were his friends anyway, but Pawar said India must not kowtow to the Chinese). The information and broadcasting minister, Sam Pitroda, said India could barter Arunachal Pradesh in return for Chinese investment in Bangalore’s IT sector. But someone had been defacing billboards—a giant one near Gandhi Gardens (once known as Lodi Gardens) saying “Ra Ga!” was overwritten to say “Ha Ga!”
The plan to build the Mayawati statue had been put on hold—the price of iron had shot up, and the rupee had continued to decline. It was 85 rupees to a dollar now, and the new Reserve Bank governor, Ruba Subramanya, had tried to assuage markets, but the markets were spooked when Shaktikanta Das left as RBI’s governor abruptly, saying he wouldn’t officiate over an Iftaar party before the budget.
Baba’s car reached the Red Fort and suddenly the driver applied the brakes. Baba shouted at the driver. “What happened? Can’t you drive carefully?”
“Sir, there was a small Sardar kid in the way; I had to stop, otherwise…”
“If a big car dashes across, it is the small kid’s fault. If the small kid dies, it is regrettable, but we must keep going,” he said. “We can’t control everything all the time. Things happen. Hua toh Hua”
(This article is inspired by this article.)