I am extremely nervous. It is after a lot of negotiations with his Personal Assistant, that he has given me this appointment. I had been told to wait outside the ornate office for 15 minutes. An hour has passed since then. I spend the time pacing in the corridor. The secretary seated across at a desk throws me quizzical looks. Quizzical and discouraging. It is expected. Secretaries have a keen sense for detecting unwanted visitors who are admitted into the corridors of these plush offices for the sake of democracy. The interviewer is a species which tops the list. Politicians have a healthy dread for keen-eyed and long- nosed interviewers, who conduct their torture sessions with a sharp and surgical precision, using brittle facts to propel out certain headline worthy statements out of the obviously uncomfortable politician. The perfect disaster scenario for the party, and a field day for the press. The interviewer knows that he is not welcome. He knows that he is viewed with suspicion, and even hated to some extent. Which makes it all the more satisfying.
Finally, the secretary informs me that Sirji is now free for the interview and I can go in. I enter the office and thank him profusely for agreeing to this interview in midst of his obviously busy schedule. Profuse is an important element in Indian politics and can serve many purposes. The most noticeable thing in the office is a huge framed photograph of the President of Sirji’s political party, wearing a radiant smile and holding a poster of the party symbol and slogan, which hangs behind the desk, at which Sirji is presently seated. He responds to my profuse thanks with a beaming smile, which mirrors that of the person in the photograph. He motions for me to sit down and calls someone on the intercom for tea and biscuits.
We discuss his party’s alleged role in instigating the regional violence which has recently enveloped the state. He dismisses the claims with a wave of his hand and laments that the positive approach of the party towards the native people of the state is being mistaken for regional discrimination. “The fact of the matter is that these immigrants are pooling in day by day, and taking jobs away from our people, they are threatening our culture. You just take a stroll in the city, and you will come across more people speaking their language rather than the native language of this glorious state of ours!” I ask him if it is correct for the party to resort to violence to fulfil these understandably genuine concerns. “What violence? Here we are serving our duty to the people of the state, we care for them! We are the only party in this state which is doing its best to protect our people from this stream of immigrants! All this talk about us being an extremist divisive party is utter nonsense. We are doing what we can for our own people, and the biased press of this country refers to our party president as a… (He consults today’s newspaper)…a… political terrorist!” he responds emphatically. I then tell him about the situation in other states where the attitude towards the immigrants from other states is a much more tolerant one. He gives me an understanding smile. “We too are very tolerant people. However, we are acutely sensitive to the concerns of our people and if they suffer because of these immigrants, then we do what needs to be done.” ‘Done’ is punctuated by a fist hitting the table.
I ask him about the recent incident where his party president dared the police of the state to come and arrest him in response to an FIR filed against him. Did this indicate his reckless confidence in his political position and an assurance that the party workers would engulf the state in violence, if he was arrested? “Of course not! The reason he called out to the police to come and arrest him was because he felt proud. He had upheld the State’s pride and that of the people. His words gave courage to our people. You have to understand, we are their saviours. We are the only ones speaking out for our homeland and our rights.”
After the interview ends, I thank him for his time, profusely, like I did before the interview. He shakes my hand and speaks in an apparently reassuring voice, “We have long been misunderstood by the people. But now, I am confident that our recent actions will show the indigenous people of the state how much we have done for them, and they will vote us to power in next year’s state elections. Right now our party is not able to do much. What you have seen is nothing. When our Government is elected, we will bring a radical change to the way things function in the state. We will make the state as we see it in our mind’s eye.”
I shudder slightly as I open the door and leave the room.
[Image Source: http://flickr.com/photos/kevinl8888/125055857/]