On August 14, 2010, inside a quiet, leafy, guarded bungalow on Race Course Road, a stressed old man shifted uncomfortably on his sofa. A young man next to him offered solace.
“You’ll be fine. You’ve done it before. It’s only the Independence Day,” the young man said as he stacked sheets of paper.
“Do i have to give a speech?” the old man said, “I hate to talk.”
“But you are the prime minister,” the young man said, “And I am here, your speech-writer. Why worry?”
The PM remained uncomfortable. He looked at his phone. No calls or messages from high command. Without direction, life was extra hard.
The writer continued, “It’s mostly school kids who attend. There is no Q&A at the end. Unfurl the flag, stand for the national anthem, take the gun salute, read the speech it is standard stuff.”
“Everyone gets a holiday on Independence Day,” the PM said, “why can’t I?”
The speech-writer was speechless. He changed the topic.
“Should we talk about the content?” the writer said, “what do you want to focus on?”
“I don’t know. What do you suggest?” the PM said. “Is there anything worth talking about?”
The speech-writer paused to look at the PM in disbelief before he spoke again: “So much has happened. Just in the past months.”
“Like what?” the PM said.
“Like the Bhopal verdict no real punishment.”
“Yes, but i don’t have to talk about that,” the PM said, “that story has died.”
“Along with the thousands,” the writer mumbled.
“What?” the PM said.
“Nothing. How about the crazy inflation? People are truly sick of it,” the writer said.
“Really?” the PM said.
“Really what? That there is inflation or people are sick of it?” the writer said.
“Both i guess. I never buy anything. People do it for me. And i can’t talk about inflation. It’s too sensitive an issue.”
“But it affects your people,” the writer said.
“Next,” the PM said.
“Corruption? Look at the Commonwealth Games full of murkiness. Why don’t you resolve to put the criminals to book.”
“Criminals who?” the PM said.
“The politicians and officials who did it,” the writer said.
“But they are important people,” the PM said.
“They’ve broken the law. Isn’t the law the same for everyone?” the writer said.
“It is?” the PM said.
The writer could only raise his eyebrows in response.
“It can’t be the same law. Have you ever seen any high-profile official in jail for corruption?” the PM said. “Any?”
The writer shook his head.
“I don’t like to make false promises,” the PM said.
“Of course,” the writer said and cleared his throat, “how about Kashmir? Violence has flared up there. Or maybe we can combine it with the Naxalite disturbance and talk about internal strife?”
“Talk what?” the PM said, “why do people like to talk? Why?”
“Talk to show you care,” the writer said, “and talk about solving the issues, of course.”
“Is that my job?” the PM said.
“You are the prime minister. The most powerful person in the country. You can make things happen,” the writer said.
“Stop making fun of me,” the PM said, “other topics?”
“India-Pakistan relations,” the writer said.
“I am not allowed to talk about that,” the PM said.
“Not allowed?” the writer said, confused on who could disallow the PM. The PM raised one eyebrow to the framed pictures on the wall above. The writer saw the person the PM was referring to. Both exchanged half smiles.
“It’s OK. I am used to it now,” the PM said.
The writer stretched his arms out. “I’m out of ideas. You guide me, sir. We don’t have that much time.”
” General topics,” the PM said, “just make it broad enough that there is no controversy. But not so boring that the guards and kids go to sleep,” the PM said.
The writer bit his upper lip to mull over the PM’s suggestion.
“Like i’ll tell you,” the PM explained, “talk about poverty reducing it, of course. And education. And stuff like we won’t tolerate injustice and inequality. Oh, and use the word superpower a couple of times just don’t mention a specific issue or put a real opinion.”
The writer nodded slowly as he absorbed the instructions.
“OK, sir, in that case, all i have to do is look at last few years’ speeches and cut-and-paste to make a new one.”
The PM’s eyes opened wide as he shook his head. “Don’t!” he said, using his rare loud voice, “don’t do that. The TV channels catch on to the cut-and-paste. Who’s that feisty TV anchor?”
“Barkha Dutt?” the writer said.
“Yeah, her. She’ll rip it apart. Not to mention that Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami and Deepak Chaurasia. They track all the copy-paste stuff, they’ll talk non-stop about it,” the PM said.
“OK, OK, won’t refer to the past speeches,” the writer said.
“No you can. Just make sure it is from speeches at least 20 years ago, before these anchors started work.”
“Oh, OK,” the writer said, “the content is the same anyway. Fine sir, you’ll have it in two hours.”
The writer stood up to leave. The PM escorted him to the door.
“You are a quick learner, i wish you all the success in life,” the PM said.
“Thank you sir. I wish you…well, what can i wish you? You have everything.”
“Wish me freedom, real freedom,” the PM said, looking at the writer in his eyes as the door shut between them.