The Association of Assassinated Dictators was holding its annual get-together in Hell. It was a 30-ft long table, made as a replica of Putin’s long table. The table was created at the request of Stalin, who is a fan of Putin. Stalin wanted that Putin should be made to feel at home when he finally comes to Hell and the replica table will help. Behind the head of the table fluttered a golden banner, Non Ducor Duco – I am not led; I lead. At a far point on the table huddled several fat figures. They were assassinated Chinese emperors. They had been given observer status because they had not ascended to power by subverting the constitutional process, a necessary condition to be designated a dictator. In another far corner huddled figures in military uniform, many of them from Pakistan. They also did not qualify as full members as coup was not the proper means to become a dictator. One should start as a popular leader worshipped by his people and only then one should grab absolute power. Other assassinated dictators like Mussolini also sat in rear seats. Though full members, they did not leave behind long enough trails of mass killings so essential to be a famous dictator and hence limelight eluded them. Mussolini did mention at the last meeting that mistresses of dictators who died with them for the cause should be allowed a place in the balcony to observe the proceedings. His mistress had been butchered with him by the ungrateful mob and her body had been hung upside down in Milan alongside his own body.¬† Hitler’s mistress too had been compelled to take her life when the F√ľhrer had shot himself. Both the European “Satis” were now sitting up there.

Julius Caesar, the perfect dictator, met all the requirements and being the most senior member of the Association, was in the Chair. Nero, sitting next to him was clearly not happy. Why should he preside always, he did not even burn Rome, he grumbled. Caesar was calm; copia ciborum subtilitas impeditur, he quoted Seneca, the junior while looking at the huge mass of Nero. Abundance of food hampers intelligence. You are a member by invitation, Caesar reminded him. You were not even assassinated; you committed suicide. It was I who supported your membership arguing that suicide is assassination of the self. But for my support, you would have¬† been a member of the Association of the Assassins of Dictators. Nero’s bulk slumped in his seat and his eyes welled up. He fished out a small vial from his pocket and collected the tear in it. It is for my people; they loved me so much, he managed between sobs.

Napoleon, seated on the other side of Caesar, said that even he was not assassinated but everybody rightly agreed that being imprisoned on St. Helena was a fate worse than death and he was grateful for being granted membership. He declared that he has no objection to Caesar being the Chairperson in perpetuity. After all, Caesar was the original dictator who changed the legal office of dictator to Dictator in perpetuum. Caesar proclaimed “Ave Satanas” and made a bow towards Napoleon while Hitler, sitting next to Nero, put his arm around him as a gesture of support. Nero thanked Hitler with a Nazi salute and promised to gift him his next tear.

With this little interruption, Caesar called the meeting to order. Members picked up the agenda list; at the top was the threat to the ideal concept of dictatorship. Stalin, sitting next to Hitler, said that he had sponsored this issue. Caesar asked him to enlighten everybody about the threat. Stalin twirled his moustache, to the envy of clean-shaven Caesar, Nero and Napoleon. Dictators have become pusillanimous, he bellowed. They mollify people, hide their prisons behind fake names. I ran Gulag and it was called Gulag; read Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago¬† and you will know. I said dissidents will do hard labour on an empty stomach and made them do exactly that. I never asked for anyone’s support. Look at that coward Xi Jinping; he labels the Xinjiang prisons as re-education centres for Uyghurs! What is he afraid of? He should call a spade a spade; I mean, a terrorist is a terrorist and needs to be put in a prison and tortured and made to do hard labour, till he is liberated and comes to Hell. I met one I had sent here; he was complaining that the guards of Hell were not half as good as my guards in inflicting torture. But I digress; Xi has been saying for a whole decade that he will take Taiwan, by force, IF NECESSARY. What degenerate times and what nincompoop dictators! Xi might as well be the head of a debating, procrastinating democracy.¬† Force is always necessary for a dictator. We all are inspired by our chairperson’s “veni, vidi, vici”. When I wanted to take control of countries of Eastern Europe, I did not make any bones about it; I just grabbed them. When they showed inclination of giving the middle finger to us Soviets under the banner of Prague Spring, my able successor Brezhnev sent in the tanks, making it too hot for any sprint towards stupid democracy. Our successor Putin, the ablest KGB man we Soviets ever had, did exactly that in Chechnya; a few hundred shells lobbed into high-rise residential apartments and whole of Chechnya was pacified. I propose to put on record that when Xi comes here finally, he should be denied membership of this Association.

Manet insontem gravis exitus,¬† said Caesar gravely. In our hurry, we may condemn an exalted dictator, innocent as dictators always are. Could you come up with some more supporting evidence? Sure, said Stalin. Wait a minute, said Libya’s Gaddafi. You were neither assassinated nor you died by suicide. How come you are here? Stalin was furious; he roared at Gaddafi. You rat, you were hiding in a drain when they dragged you out and put a bullet in your head. You call that assassination? I drank and smoked myself to death, more honourable than your disgraceful demise. Caesar signalled to Gaddafi to be quiet when a senior dictator was speaking but he could not stop Hitler from interjecting. I think you are being harsh on Xi. The times have changed and so different tactics are required but we cannot doubt his intentions; look at what he is doing to Falun Gong. My famous Doctor Death did only experiments in concentration camps, like freezing and boiling people to know the effect of temperature on blood or exposing testicles and ovaries to X-rays for a few minutes and then removing these to know the changes. Xi has given a new dimension to medical science, said Hitler as he rose and raised his arm in salute to the hologram of not-yet-in-Hell Xi. He has got all the prisoners tested¬† and catalogued. Whenever a European or an American needs an organ transplant, his doctors are ready in real time for a donor match. These Falun Gong members are big trouble makers, they wiggle and thrash a lot as the doctor takes out the organ, raising the prospects of the organ getting damaged and the loss of half a million dollars to the revolutionary nation. Therefore, Xi told them to cut the tendons of the donors before organ extraction. He is knowledgeable, knowing everything about everything that is worth knowing for a dictator. Stalin conceded the point. Thanks for filling us in, he said withdrawing his proposal of debarring Xi. Thus, a seat was reserved in Hell for Xi while his prime membership of the Association for Assassinated Dictators seems to be reasonably assured.

The second item on the agenda was about the United Nations. The dictators were very agitated about the prohibition on use of force to subjugate small nations and the difficulties being faced by Putin merely because he wanted to merge Ukraine with Russia. What are armies for, said Napoleon, who had sponsored this item. If we cannot send armies anymore into other nations that sin by being small and are weak because of not being ruled by good dictators, what is the point in paying soldiers and buying weapons! I invaded Egypt and whole of North Africa. I conquered territories but I have one regret. Many of those Arabs now think they can speak in French, a sophisticated language that could not be mastered even by the British and the Russian Czars, even though they tried. He quoted Tolstoy about Russian nobility writing in French, speaking in French and thinking in French. Yes, they even thought in French but speaking my language is a different cup than the English tea. My countrymen were so upset at this sacrilege of the sacred French, I am glad I was sent to St Helena. Nero, who had been silent for a long time, thought it was about time to catch the tiny man on his tiny wrong foot. But you said imprisonment on St Helena was worse than death. Napoleon looked at fat Nero with disdain; it is beyond you. I did not say death by guillotine! The head of a noble dictator tumbling into a wicker basket is the worst ignominy!

Caesar had dozed off and was brought into the present by the loud sniffles of Nero at being scolded by Napoleon. It has been a long meeting, he said. We shall meet again to welcome and felicitate when a new members from earth joins us in Hell. I am sure it will be soon.

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