The standout dimension in election 2019 is the parade of lies, half-truths and malicious information by all the players involved. Politics in India has always been a bit of a con act where leaders seek to dupe masses with tall talk, promises and sops, but never earlier had it been so brazen and the respect for truth so irrelevant to the political discourse.
Facts no more stand sacred and irrefutable. Politicians and their trumpeters can add layers of spin to them or produce counter facts to destroy their relevance. What that leaves finally, is a confused receiver. Perhaps that has been the original intention of the leaders in the first place. It helps them manipulate masses better if they have no clarity on facts or the ground reality.
So, what happened to demonetisation? You have claims and counter claims. With more than 99 per cent of all the money in circulation back in the banking system, it obviously failed to meet the primary objective: to weed out black money. But watch the huge tribe of ‘experts’ on social and mainstream media, they would never stop reminding you, with numbers, that it was an unqualified success.
Where are the jobs? According to National Sample Survey Office, unemployment stood at a 45-year high in 2018 at 6.1 per cent in 2017-18. The government never allowed it to be public. We were supplied with truckloads of information refuting the finding of the NSSO. India, indeed, was doing wonderfully on the job front, ‘experts’ tirelessly drilled into the nation’s consciousness.
We can go on and on with instances. But the examples above are good enough to explain how the relevance of facts can be crushed in a strategic manner. Two takeaways here: one, manufacture counter to the fact and drum these up so loud that the original gets lost in the din; and two, put an imaginative spin to facts. Facts, in themselves can be boring, people are suckers for good stories.
Every Indian Is A Voter; Don’t Treat Him As Anything More
Committed voters are of use to political parties. Thus, fewer the fence-sitters the better for them. Thinking individuals tend to be analytical and juggling many facts and points of view leaves them confused and indecisive. They ask uncomfortable questions too. They should be made to toe the line of one party or the other or shouted out.
Nowhere is it more conspicuous than our mainstream media. Watch the coverage of political matters on television, prime time debates on major channels in particular. While it is obvious that they are working with an agenda and are not particularly bothered about appearing neutral or balanced, the larger reality stands stark: they have reduced the largely politically-unaffiliated audience to voters. The continuous effort is to bombard him with information and analysis that are clearly partisan and force him to take a side.
They don’t expect logical reasoning from the audience or intelligent questions. If both make an appearance, they have to get the sledgehammer treatment. Notice how popular anchor Arnab Goswami and his clones on other channels go about bulldozing difference of opinion on their shows and you get the point.
Play To Emotions, Real Issues Can Wait
Three observations on popular behaviour by Adolf Hitler in his book Mein Kampf would be instructive here. He was writing about the use of propaganda to sway the masses.
One, all propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be…
Two, the receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan…
Three, the art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their sentiment… This sentiment…is not highly differentiated, but has only the negative and positive notions of love and hatred, right and wrong, truth and falsehood.
In the last five years, we have noticed propaganda in action on the exact lines. The political leadership and the media loyal to it have been pandering to popular sentiment through emotive issues. It’s no surprise that issues such as Hindutva, nationalism, Pakistan, Muslims and cow have dominated the political discourse and served as an instrument of polarisation. It has helped the ruling dispensation evade questions on bread and butter. But how long can emotive issues sustain? They don’t for long, as evidence from history suggests.
Growth Of Personality Cult
The most striking feature in this election is the worship of the personality cult and sharp division among people on the basis of absolute loyalty to one individual. The popularity of leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and later Indira Gandhi was organic to the politics of the country, growing out of the actions of the leaders and the incremental growth in their personal appeal over the years. The case of Narendra Modi is entirely different. His cult has developed through the branding and promotion of his persona as a market product. Why, we even have Modi merchandise in the market! This besides the ceaseless campaign on television and other media about his greatness.
This would still be fine, but when voting is expected to be for or against one person only, it makes our representative democracy look odd. Elections in a diverse country like ours cannot be a referendum on one person only. It diminishes the role of people’s representatives and weakens our parliamentary democracy.
Will this election be a test for the acceptability of personality cult? Let’s wait and watch.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the web portal.