Saturday, 15 August 2020

Ananth M. Adhyam, Short Story 2020 Longlist

A Question of Succession


The Honorable Defence Minister and President of the People’s Greatness Party (PGP), Mr. F. Dun stood and gazed out of his office window at the rows of handsome government offices that lined the King’s Road of the The Capital. For a decade now, he had occupied one or the other part of this upend locality and like any good politician, he equated official with personal when it came to all things material and domestic. He had had very little to worry about in that regard till that morning.


Looking him straight in the eyes, his doctor had told him it was heart trouble and attributed it to his “excesses”. Personally, he didn’t believe a word of it. It was just the stress of a full time political career, as it always is. Whatever the case, he had to take it easy from now on, and that would mean he needed to pick a successor who would uphold the honour of his family, party, community and faith as he had, all these years.


He had three sons, all splendid lads. They had been educated in the most expensive institutions in the country and established in comfortable positions by the generosity of their father, where they had made themselves small fortunes through government contracts which he had sent their way. Receiving contracts was one matter, but handing them out discreetly needed very different talents and there, he did not know whether they had it in them. Moreover, after having won two elections campaigning against turning governance into a family affair, it wouldn’t do for the president of the PGP to have all his children occupying ministerial berths. Only the best among them could be groomed for that post. But who was the best?


As he watched the fat pigeons dozing on the parapet outside his window, an idea struck him. The only qualification one needed to run the party and the country was the ability to win elections. Where better to test that ability than in an election? Three states were due for elections in two months time. In all three, the incumbent PGP was facing an alliance of regional parties and its arch rival, the National Solidarity Party (NSP). The polls experts were anticipating a tough contest and he was widely seen as the one to swing the vote in favor of the PGP. It followed then that whoever managed to perform his role in the elections and excel would be the best candidate to succeed him.


Thus, the three young men, Mr. D. Sun, Mr. D. Tar and and Mr. D. Rag, bearers of various offices in the Youth Wing of the PGP were dispatched to different corners of the country whose existence was oblivious to them, to address issues they didn’t care about, and in languages they didn’t speak. But they went none the less, for you see, in the Great Country, winning elections did not need any knowledge, concern or understanding.


Mr. Dun would hear of his sons’ first exploits over the morning news a few days later. All three had made a few speeches, and had largely stuck to the basics- they had extolled the Great Leader till the crowds were hysterical with tears and then reviled the NSP as agents of of the Evil Nation till the patriotic masses were baying for the blood of the traitors. They had then spent a few minutes promising the sky to those who were still not convinced, before begging their audience to punish those who dared question their country’s perfection by voting PGP in the Great War that the election was going to be. So far, so good. that much was expected of any PGP member.


It was a week before the news of his eldest son, Sun’s, other doings reached him. One indiscreet party worker was caught slipping what he claimed was fruit juice to attendees at a rally. The policeman on the beat insisted that by the smell and taste, he thought that the unmarked bottles contained stronger refreshments than had been claimed. He and his superiors had been convinced that it was not so only after being treated to the same at Mr. Sun’s five star hotel room. A few token gifts had smoothed the way and they had left a merry lot. Soon, such occurrences were becoming routine affairs, but since owners of major media houses had themselves been treated to liberal amounts of refreshment and gifts on a regular basis, they were less prejudiced against the party than was the usual.


Even so, there were troubling signs from early on. When a group of NSP workers caught some of his supporters passing suspicious packets around at a rally, he very imprudently tried to pacify them with presents. When they refused and raised a hue and cry, Sun was left mumbling incoherently in front of the cameras. The PGP IT cell then had to work overtime to undo the damage. When NSP members started turning up at all his rallies, PGP workers were told to stop whatever they were doing and stand quietly by as the NSP did their best to disrupt the event. Instead, there were reports of people slipping envelopes from under the door across entire neighborhoods by night. That definitely didn’t look good for the PGP.


His second son Tar started making it to the front pages of every newspaper by the end of the first week too. His speeches had been particularly provocative and had sprayed pure venom all over the NSP and its supporters. The crowds and the media lapped it all up- here was a man finally calling out the NSP for what it was- a bunch of traitors bent on selling the country out to the Evil State. They even cheered as PGP workers vandalized NSP offices and created mayhem at their rallies. If anyone dared express support for opponents the PGP, their own neighbours would heckle them into silence. There was little doubt in the state as to who would win. That was where things started getting out of hand.


When a group of PGP workers got into a drunken brawl at one of the upmarket watering holes, they managed to hush it up. But when they beat up a beggar and then claimed that he was a foreign spy, they found people far less sympathetic. Naturally, when Mr. Tar was asked about it, he was expected to condemn the incident. Instead, he called it a conspiracy by the NSP and when pressed about it by a journalist, went on to hurl a stream of abuse at the hapless man. From then on, he would find newsmen (and women) far less amicable towards him. Things were made worse when the NSP started handing out presents. Within days, they had a small force of professional goons and clashes with PGP workers erupted on the streets. Prime time news anchors, well fed and watered by the NSP, placed the blame for this squarely at the PGP’s doorstep. Mr. Tar did nothing to counter the charge and instead called for an escalation in violence. Consequently, the milder patriots, the fence sitters, began to have their misgivings, and the victory that once seemed certain didn’t seem that certain anymore.


Dun’s youngest son rarely made it to the front page at all, and even when he did, it wasn’t for anything particularly eye catching. Rag rarely went beyond the basic PGP campaign speech in public, although he pulled off spectacular shows each time, and led a seemingly spotless life in private. He refused to speak to the media most of the time and the few interviews he did give steered well clear of politics. No one, except the Concrete Guerrillas and NSP stooges, had anything critical to say of him. Every opinion poll showed a PGP landslide and every week, the margin of victory only rose further.


It was on the grapevine that Dun learned the secret behind Rag’s success. Within just hours of his arrival in the state, substantial presents had been sent out to all the important people. Particular attention had been paid to NSP heavyweights known to be discontent with their assigned share of the loot should the party win. Even their goons had been convinced of the better prospects that awaited them in the PGP. All speeches, interviews and statements were prepared beforehand by a dedicated campaign team and nothing spontaneous was allowed on any platform. Those who asked too many questions tended to disappear and if lucky, reappear with a changed mind and several broken bones. In the television studios and on the internet, hundreds of PGP trolls drowned out any dissent in a flood of sensational though entirely fictitious stories. Any NSP member still foolish enough to challenge the PGP would be visited by members of the party’s student wing or its ideological allies. That usually did the trick.


As the two months went by, each of them appeared more and more in the day’s news and each day, they were upping the ante. Finally, after weeks of hectic campaigning and a nervous polling day, the results trickled in. In Sun’s state, The PGP returned to power, but with a slim margin. In Tar’s it failed to win a majority at all and only Mr. Dun’s personal intervention and a visit to the horse market enabled the party to form a coalition government. But in Rag’s state, the PGP won an absolute majority, beating all predictions and leaving only a handful of seats to others. The Great People had spoken and Mr. Dun, though unused to doing so, was only too glad to listen. The Great Country had another Great Leader and Mr. Dun returned to the Capital a happy man.

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