The year: 2030
The Place: Rajasthan, in the Indian sub-continent
The report: the travel diary of a tourist travelling around the country, accompanied by his local guide
As I board the aircraft of RajAir, I am struck by the hospitality of the smiling stewardesses and their peculiar uniform: a sari with a dark maroon coloured sash worn around it. As I travel the country later, I realize that the maroon coloured sash has become a way of life in this part of the world.
The airport is located in the capital city of Rajasthan which has been recently named Rajpura. There is also a port in the same city. The signposts are in English, in the native language and in Chinese. But what strikes me most as I enter the country are gigantic billboards of an elderly gentleman with a broad, inviting smile and a moustache that is nearly as broad.
My guide tells me that he is the Great Leader, who has been in power for the last twenty five years, thanks to an important constitutional amendment passed twenty years ago. I ask my guide whether he is called ‘GL’ for ‘Great Leader’; he shakes his head and says no, they got rid of GL a long time ago!
Was this the original capital of Rajasthan, I ask my guide. He tells me the original capital was a place with a long name in the west of the country until they shifted the capital to this port city in the South.
Unfortunately, he says the original capital’s long name has since been replaced by yet another long name. Why, I ask him. It was named Wickremesinghepura, he explains, to honour the country’s Leader of the Opposition who too has been holding that position for over thirty years.
I ask him why he was not changed all these years. My guide says that all his MPs except a chap named Tissa deserted him and formed the National United Party or NUP which became popularly known as the Now Useless Party headed by a former leader’s son. They were about to claim the Leader of the Opposition post when the ruling party passed the 246th Constitutional Amendment with a two-thirds majority saying that the ruling party too has to vote to select the Leader of the Opposition; and so he still keeps his job.
So, who really runs the country, I ask my guide. He says the Great Leader is still very much in control but that there is what is called the Parliamentary Council. That Council, he says, consists of the Speaker (who happens to be the Great Leader’s elder brother), the Prime Minister (who happens to be the Great leader’s younger brother), the Leader of the Opposition and two other Parliamentarians one of whom is the Great leader’s son who is also the Minister of Economic Development. Apparently because it is such a close-knit team, he says, everything works smoothly.
But with so many people in the government being from one family, isn’t there criticism, I ask my guide. Of course not, he says, because the people have elected all of them. Elections are held regularly and monitored by that Council, my guide assures. Over the last twenty years, the Great Leader’s party has always won with over two thirds of the seats, he says, and the Council has never complained of even a single incident of rigging. In fact, there is a lot of harmony between the Great Leader and the Leader of the Opposition, because they are often seen on television having tea together.
As I travel from the Airport to the capital city on the Raj highway, I see a curious sight: people tied to trees on the roadside. My guide is quick to explain: it was a punishment for offenders devised by someone who was later awarded a second Doctorate in Law-although no one quite knows what his first doctorate was for-and then went on to be appointed the Chief Justice for his skills in delivering justice swiftly and efficiently. They now call it ‘Mervyning’, says my guide.
I am taken to see the new Parliament in the new capital. There are many statues on its lawn. They all honour national heroes who made a significant contribution to the country, I am told. There are statues of people with unfamiliar names such as Rauf, Lakshman and Digambaram. I ask my guide what their contribution to the country was and he is somewhat embarrassed at first but then he says it was them who made the Great Leader’s lengthy rule possible in the first instance.
Three other statues are given pride of place and I ask my guide who these persons are. They are three men named Nimal, Maithripala and S.B., he says. I ask then why their statues are special. My guide says they served the Great Leader and his party for many years hoping for the Number Two slot. Tired of waiting anymore after several decades, the three of them set fire to themselves outside the party headquarters and perished, he recalls sadly.
I walk around the Parliament lawn and am surprised to see the busts of three more men displayed prominently. My guide tells me that they depict three men, Vasu, Dew and Tissa (and this one is not the Tissa who stayed on with the Leader of the Opposition) and that they too have rendered a great national service to the country. I ask him why they too couldn’t be honoured with statues of the other men. My guide is embarrassed again but he explains, saying that it was not possible to erect full length statues for them as many people had said these three gentlemen did not have backbones; so, only their faces were sculpted.
I am intrigued, but we move on. My guide assures me that there is more to see and that a full tour of Rajasthan would take a few weeks. I pay him his fees in the local currency-a few hundred Rajs- and tell him that I would have to take the full tour when I return to Rajasathan in a few years. There is no need to worry, he assures me, and says, “Even if you return in a few more years, things will be much the same in Rajasthan!”