Let them eat breadFor a corrupt leadership, there is nothing more inconvenient than truth.
According to a fable, an emperor is once visited by two swindlers who promise to weave for him a set of new clothes that are invisible to stupid people. The emperor is excited about wearing a special kind of clothes and expends the state coffers to get the outfit stitched. The emperor's minions see that the weavers are not weaving any clothes, but they keep quiet for fear of being considered stupid. When the emperor finally gets to wear the invisible clothes and comes out on the street to exhibit his miraculous costume, everyone seems to admire them. It is only when a child spills the beans—the emperor is naked—that the people realise that they have been duped. Even then, the emperor must continue to pretend that all is well. Such is the insulation that the nexus between power and shamelessness gives an individual who believes everyone around is a fool.
Like other folktales, the emperor's tale never goes out of fashion for a reason. Each new age gets it a new emperor who is as pretentious as the original one. And each new generation gets to see a new avatar of the emperor in its own surroundings. As if the national level leaders were not playing the roles of neo-emperors well enough, Kathmandu Metropolitan City Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya on Monday sent a diktat to individuals and organisations that have been feeding the poor and hungry at several locations in the city to stop doing what they were doing. The reason, the mayor said, was that those who were being fed for free were not needy, and that the city's open spaces had become filthy due to the feeding activities. And to top that, the mayor said the activities had brought a bad name to the metropolitan city. This, coming from a mayor who recently stayed and had his lunches and dinners at a major five-star hotel when he and his family contracted the coronavirus, undoubtedly breaks all ceilings of shamelessness.
Clearly, the mayor hasn't heard of Malar Sada's hunger saga. A daily wage labourer from Saptari, Sada starved to death, on May 19, after he lost his job due to the nationwide lockdown imposed by the government—without any contingency plan for the poor and the marginalised—to tackle Covid-19. Thousands of Malar Sadas go to bed hungry each night, right in the capital city as leaders choose to ignore the plight of the poor. As the mayor famously said, he doesn't read the newspapers and gets his news from the people around him. It is not difficult to understand that he gets told only what he wants to hear, just as the fable's emperor is told that he is, in fact, wearing clothes. For a corrupt leadership, there is nothing more inconvenient than truth.
Leaders from top to bottom take the poverty and helplessness of the people as an affront to them, a challenge to their unbridled power. History is full of stories of inept leaderships—from East to West, North to South—who consider the plight of the people inconsequential. When told that there was a shortage of bread in the country, Marie Antoinette, the bride of France's King Louis XVI, is rumoured to have callously said, 'Let them eat cake.' Having failed to provide decent food and shelter to thousands of people who have lost their means of livelihood in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the mayor of Kathmandu has made a place for himself in the list of inept leaders who do not mind breaking any glass ceiling of shamelessness at the expense of others. Someone who has recently munched on lavish desserts at a posh five-star hotel should at least be ashamed enough to keep quiet when the generous people help their compatriots with a few pieces of bread out of their pockets.