“Sir, look at this. Someone in Uttar Pradesh got lynched by a mob...”
Srikar barely looked up while scribbling frantically on a document. “Not now, Raghav. Focus on this bill, please.”
Raghav kept the newspaper down and stared at the document on his laptop. Srikar had been assigned another bill and Raghav had drafted a speech for him. The legislation, related to the general budget, was titled “Finance Bill, 2015”. It was a super complex and technical bill which Raghav lost interest in the moment he started leafing through it.
According to him, the speech he had written was wishy-washy. Full of random demands from the state government he had found online, some issues about pending payments and a few projects in Nagpur which had been stalled because of funding issues.
Srikar had glanced through it, looked up and asked, “Did you even read the bill?”
“Umm...yessir, I did,” replied Raghav.
“Nonsense, boy. If you would have, you’d know that this government is doing a shitty thing to hide political funding from sources. Did you read that clause?”
“What is this, boy? Go get me Dushyant. Right away,” hollered Srikar before tossing the speech away.
Now they were just sitting around waiting for Dushyant to arrive while Raghav was trying his best to take a stab at the bill again. But every time he read a line, he lost interest. How in the world is anyone supposed to read this crap? I’m no lawyer. I don’t know this lawyerspeak.
He reminded himself about how he had read a few opinion pieces about the NJAC the first time round when he had done that speech for Srikar. Then he had sat down and painstakingly identified clauses which spoke about the issues with the bill. A speech which turned out to be an absolute disaster.
For this finance bill, zero people had written anything about it. No one was discussing it. Nobody seemed to have even noticed this clause that Srikar was talking about.
What in the world?!
The doorbell rang and Jeetu came in, ushering Dushyant inside while asking him if he wanted chai. Dushyant ignored him and extended his hand to shake Srikar’s. Srikar got up with a smile and shook his. Both of them had good-natured friendly smiles on their faces, as if they were both aware of something epic they were about to pull off together.
“I hope you had a chance to look at that clause, sir?” said Dushyant, sitting down across from Srikar. “Was I correct?”
“Yes, yes. This is most interesting. It’s strange that this government is trying to make political funding non-transparent,” said Srikar. He looked at Raghav. “My useless staff wasn’t able to notice it. But thank you for being proactive, Dushyant!”
Raghav tried to shrink in size and become a peanut. Sadly, he failed.
“Okay Dushyant, so I have decided to base my complete speech on this point. It’s preposterous. It’s something we should focus on. I need a favour from you,” said Srikar.
“Sure, sir. How can I help?”
“Sit here with Raghav and help him draft the speech, please? I only ask you to give half an hour of your time. That’s all.”
Raghav sat in the RJM parliamentary office trying to keep one eye on Lok Sabha TV and another on his phone screen where he was ranting about how terrible the electoral bonds were. It was full of Twitter notifications.
Srikar was on TV, giving his speech much more confidently this time, to an extremely sleepy house, which seemed least interested in what was going down. Even the finance minister seemed to be trying to fight away his sleep while listening to the speakers. He was taking notes every fifteen minutes just to wake himself up.
After his initial opening comments, Srikar took a pause, cleared his throat and declared, “The electoral bonds’ provision being introduced in this finance bill is a big fraud. It’s a special currency which will only be used by political parties to take shady underhand donations. This government is killing democracy.”
Some people in the audience stirred at the mention of “fraud”, “shady donations” and “killing democracy” in quick succession.
The finance minister was suddenly alert, as if caught off-guard. Furious whispering commenced between him and a cabinet colleague sitting beside him. The camera focused briefly on this furious activity and then back at Srikar. He seemed satisfied with the effect his words were having.
“Will you put your mobile on silent please, Raghavji?” said a jolly-faced Sehrawat, who seemed oddly happy sorting stacks of papers. Raghav quickly did what he was told and apologised.
Sehrawat stopped shuffling about for a bit and stared at Raghav. “So what is this sudden flurry of activity about?”
“It’s nothing, Sehrawatji. We seem to have hit on controversy gold. Just trying to take advantage of it on all fronts,” responded Raghav, waving his phone screen at Sehrawat and pointing at the TV with the other hand. Just for a moment, Sehrawat’s jolly face broke character and took on a look of concern. Just for a moment.
“Very good, Raghavji,” he said, returning to his default happy self. “Do tell me more!”
Raghav moved towards Sehrawat and motioned for him to sit down. He pulled up a chair and showed him his phone screen. “Do you know what Twitter is?”
Sehrawat peered at the screen. “Oh yes. They keep showing these tweets by politicians on TV. It’s a place where famous people go to make statements so that news channels pick it up and make a big deal out of it.”
“Well that’s...an accurate description. But it is also a place where normal people like me go to express our views and talk about things.”
“Right. So our office found a problematic clause in this bill which Srikar sir is now talking about. It allows anonymous political...”
“Yes yes. I was hearing the speech too. It looks shady but why are you so jumpy and excited today?”
“Okay, so I was tweeting about it too from my Twitter for the past few hours. My tweets have gone viral and been picked up and retweeted by people with a lot of followers. Now a few media houses have also started reporting on it.”
“Did you plant the story?”
“What? Plant what?” Raghav tried hard to project an innocent face.
“Did you speak to journalists about it? That’s the only way the media picks up stories.”
“No, I didn’t,” said Raghav as his throat suddenly went dry.
Sehrawat gave him a knowing look but didn’t say anything. They both turned to look at the screen where Raghav could see a sudden rush of people storming in and filling the seats behind the finance minister. The members were all alert, while the minister was looking at Srikar with pure venom. Srikar was going off script now and capitalising on the outrage.
“What are we trying to tell the people of this country? That political parties can be easily bought and sold by those who have money? This is just a ridiculous move made by the government and the prime minister himself should come and explain this provision. If not, he is directly guilty of enabling crony capitalism and corruption. He is guilty of hoodwinking his voters.”
Outrage. The House erupted into chaos. The treasury bench members started catcalling. In response, the Opposition got up and started screaming back. Srikar continued speaking unfazed, even when nobody could figure out what he was saying amidst the chaos. The speaker abruptly called for an adjournment for the rest of the day.
On his phone screen, Raghav could see the outrage building up. Journalists had started talking about the outrage in the Lok Sabha and the subsequent adjournment. It was snowballing.
Raghav smiled and showed his phone to Sehrawat again. “Sehrawatji, look. Everybody’s talking about boss. It’s beautiful.”
Excerpted with permission from Parliamental, Meghnad S, HarperCollins India.