Once Upon A Time
Many years ago there was an Emperor so exceedingly fond of new clothes that he spent all his money on being well dressed.
He hired two weavers who promised him the finest, best suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or ‘hopelessly stupid’.
The weavers set up two looms and pretended to weave, though there was nothing on the looms. All the finest silk and the purest old thread which they demanded went into their travelling bags, while they worked the empty looms.
The Emperor’s ministers, who went to check on the progress of the work, could not see the clothes themselves, but pretended that they can for fear of appearing unfit for their positions and so does even the Emperor while on an inspection visit.
Finally the weavers announced that the suit is finished, they mime dressed the Emperor and he marched in procession before his subjects to flaunt his new possession. The townsfolk played along with the pretense, not wanting to appear unfit for their positions or stupid.
Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurted out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others.
The Emperor suspected they were right, but continues the procession, in a bid to defend his vanity.
Deep down though, he was badly humiliated. He made a promise to himself that when time comes, he will take revenge from these jeering subjects.
Over the years though, the Emperor has found more ways to nurture his vanity. These days he loves to project a larger-than-life 3-D image for himself.
The state machinery is routinely used to spread propaganda to create an aura around the Emperor as an efficient administrator and a benevolent and honest ruler. Clothes, now, are just one of many elements to augment this aura despite the fact that he changes his attire at least four times a day.
Fictional tales about his childhood and youth have found their way into school curriculum as part of his official biography – the prominent among these are his valiant battle with a ferocious crocodile as a teenager; and a prolonged stint as an anonymous tea-seller at a railway station.
No doubt, these fairy tales have boosted the Emperor’s confidence and public image. A large number of his subjects, believing these stories to be true, have become blind devotees.
The Emperor also loves to make speeches, particularly at a gathering of hundreds and thousands of his devotees. He travels all around the world to address such large congregations, where he’s greeted by an audience repeatedly chanting his name.
According to reports, a handful of paid cheerleaders travel with the Emperor to all such meetings, especially to chant his name. The Emperor enjoys drama. Indeed, he sees himself more as a rockstar at such events than a statesman.
But more than the sound of the audience, the Emperor loves the sound of his own voice. He just loves to talk. No work can stop him from talking. In fact he only talks and hardly works.
Once every month, the Emperor also does a live show on radio.
The subject of the programme is of his choosing, which may or may not be of any relevance to his subjects. He doesn’t like to focus on matters that really matter. The idea is not to engage the audience or talk with them, it is to listen to his own ‘sublime’ and ‘supreme’ voice.
It wouldn’t be out of place to suggest that the Emperor is obsessed with his own voice. So much so, that he has declared all such voices that do not applaud the Emperor as ‘anti-national’. His devotees and cheerleaders double up as soldiers and enforcers of this diktat. The dissenters are shouted down and booked under sedition charges.
Everything is going good for the Emperor. He is living the time of his life. Speeches, radio shows, foreign travel, more speeches and then some more. Suddenly one morning, the monotony of it all hits the Emperor as he contemplates about a suitable topic for his next big speech.
He craves for more drama. He also remembers the promise he had made to himself– revenge for his abject humiliation those long years ago.
Like an epiphany, an idea emerges out of vacuum. An idea that’s the answer to both his immediate concerns and even more. Not only will the ‘masterstroke’ break the monotony of his life and provide for the drama that he so badly yearns for, it will also be the perfect speech that will set off the revenge that he has sought so deeply for all these years.
Moreover, it will add to the folklore about the Emperor as a global statesman who can take difficult decisions – a narrative that the propaganda machinery has been hard selling in recent times.
On November 8, the Emperor delivers the ‘historic’ speech, and true to his dramatic style, in one strike declares all currencies in circulation in his kingdom as illegal with near-immediate effect.
These notes can be exchanged for new ones but strict limits are put on withdrawal.
Taking a leaf out of the weavers, the Emperor assures his subjects that in announcing demonetisation he has woven the most potent of policies that will see the end of black money, counterfeits and terror funding – a decisive blow to widespread corruption.
In the same tone he adds that the greater good that demonetisation will bring in will be invisible to anyone who is either corrupt or anti-national.
The cheerleaders and the devotees hail the Emperor’s decision as a ‘masterstroke’, others as ‘surgical strike against black money’ and so forth. All this even as the subjects are subjected to long queues outside banks and ATMs. Some even die waiting. But hey, even they couldn’t question the move despite all the sufferings they go through day after day. The Emperor’s revenge is set in motion.
The ministers who fail to see the benefits of the move remain quite. They can’t risk being branded as anti-national or corrupt or both. Those with large amount of undeclared cash go about hosting obscenely lavish weddings for their kith and kin, with VIP guests being flown in in a fleet of chartered jets. But no one dares question the Emperor’s decision.
Days pass by, and then weeks. The promised greater good has no sign coming. Even the black money and fake notes are invisible. People start losing their patience but still nobody would confess that they couldn’t see anything good, not wanting to appear either anti-national or corrupt.
Eventually, two youngsters, perhaps too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurt out that demonetisation is serving no purpose other than causing great inconvenience to common folks and that the Emperor’s promise is a bag full of lies.
Soon, the cry is taken up by others as all begin to see through the Emperor’s nefarious plot. They also remember this was the same Emperor who marched the city naked once. They realize he stands naked again, this time mentally and ethically.
The Emperor shivers, for he knows that he is exposed. But again his vanity gets the better of him as he chooses to remain blind to the woes of public and continues with the process. To save face, with tears rolling down his eyes, he makes a clarion call to his subjects to give him at least 50 days to show results.
More than 30 days have passed and no one believes the situation to be any better after 20 more days.
Meanwhile, the Emperor continues to change clothes four times a day and go about addressing rallies. The number of people attending such public meetings is fading by the day. One isn’t even sure if he’s still as much in love with his own voice.
Disclaimer: Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is deliberate.
(The author is a Gulf-based Indian journalist. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Janta Ka Reporter)