There are times when I suspect that more people cite Orwell than have actually read Orwell. (One of those times occurred during my recent trip, which is what put me in mind of this). Anyway. Consider this post the Cliffs Notes edition of Orwell’s 1984. And it begins with an extended passage that should remind you of a bitter, angry old man and his myriad minions currently going around the country making sulphurous speeches.
On a scarlet-draped platform an orator of the Inner Party, a small lean man with disproportionately long arms and a large bald skull over which a few lank locks straggled, was haranguing the crowd. A little Rumpeltstiltskin figure, contorted with hatred, he gripped the neck of the microphone with one hand while the other, enormous at the end of a bony arm, clawed the air menacingly above his head.
His voice, made metallic by the amplifiers, boomed forth an endless catalog of atrocities, massacres, deportations, lootings, rapings, torture of prisoners, bombing of civilians, lying propaganda, unjust aggressions, broken treaties.
It was almost impossible to listen to him without being first convinced and then maddened. At every few moments the fury of the crowd boiled over and the voice of the speaker was drowned by a wild beast-like roaring that rose uncontrollably from thousands of throats. The most savage yells of all came from the schoolchildren. The speech had been proceeding for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurried on to the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped into the speaker’s hand.
He unrolled and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd. Oceania was at war with Eastasia! The next moment there was a tremendous confusion. The banners and posters with which the square was decorated were all wrong! Quite half of them had the wrong faces on them. It was sabotage! The agents of Goldstein had been at work!
There was a riotous interlude while posters were ripped from the walls, banners torn to shreds and trampled underfoot. The Spies performed prodigies of activity in clambering over the rooftops and cutting the streamers that fluttered from the chimneys. But within two or three minutes it was all over. The orator, still gripping the neck of the microphone, his shoulders hunched forward, his free hand clawing at the air, had gone straight on with his speech. One minute more, and the feral roars of rage were again bursting from the crowd. The Hate continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed.
That is a detailed description of the climax of Hate WeekOn March 13, 2019, what the Election Commission of India announced was not an election schedule, but a 72-day-long Hate Week led by a man who, five years ago, sold a message of hope, of rejuvenation, of regeneration and today, after five years in office, has nothing left to sell but hate; a man who has no snake oil left to offer, only distilled venom.
I met with a few folks during my travels. It was supposed to be down-time, after a hectic schedule and very little sleep: Just a group of friendly acquaintances drawn from diverse backgrounds, getting together over chilled beer in a cool, dark bar while outside, Bombay baked. And for about 20 minutes, that is exactly what it was: a refreshing interlude, a chance to catch up, to exchange notes on what we each had been up to. And then one asked, “So what do you make of the elections? Who do you think will win?” And with that, the evening turned poisonous.
The horrible thing abut the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion that could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.
In the earlier segment from 1984, note the reference to Goldstein? Orwell created, in Emmanuel Goldstein, the prototypical, infinitely malleable strawman for all seasons, for all reasons. Here he is:
As usual, the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, had flashed onto the screen. There were hisses here and there among the audience. The little sandy-haired woman gave a squeak of mingled fear and disgust. Goldstein was the renegade and backslider who once, long ago (how long ago, nobody quite remembered), had been one of the leading figures of the Party, almost on a level with Big Brother himself, and then had engaged in counterrevolutionary activities, had been condemned to death, and had mysteriously escaped and disappeared. The programmes of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies: perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters, perhaps even — so it was occasionally rumoured — in some hiding place in Oceania itself.
We have our ‘Party’ — it is called Hindutva. We have our Two Minutes Hate — the speeches of Modi and Shah and the channels that relentlessly broadcast them; the ‘Prime Time’ hate fest underwritten by members of the ‘Party’ and carried out by the loyal foot soldiers.
And we have our own Emmanuel Goldstein, plural — a revolving cast of characters who sometimes wear the Muslim skull cap and at other times the ‘Nehru cap’; who are rumoured to be lurking in ‘Lutyens’ and at other times can be found in the ‘lobby’. They shape-shift endlessly, sometimes appearing on your screens during prime Hate Hour as pseudo-intellectuals, sometimes as ‘sickulars’ or ‘urban naxals’, and when passion needs to be raised to fever pitch, as anti-nationals, traitors, the award wapsi gang, intolerance brigade,tukde-tukde gang…
Here is the Prime Minister suggesting that Rahul Gandhi is contesting from Wayanad because? Muslims. Here is Adityanath talking of the green flags waving in Wayanad. Here is one of the many tone-deaf, brain-dead amplifiers of the PM’s ‘message’, suggesting that Pakistan flags were waved at the constituency when Rahul Gandhi went there to file his nomination papers.
The ‘master’ will not tell you what, if anything, is wrong with contesting from a constituency with a particular demographic, assuming that is true and also assuming that is the intent. His ‘voice’ is ignorant that the flags in the image are those of the Indian Union Muslim League, an officially recognised party that spun off from the All India Muslim League at the time of Partition, and has existed as IUML since 1947. Who cares for facts, when the intent is to throw petrol and strike a match?
Here is Adityanath, a few days after the EC asked him to be “careful”, saying that a vote for TRS is a vote for the MIM and a vote for Congress is a vote for terrorists. Here is Modi saying the Congress is fighting this election in order to give a free hand to terrorists. Here is the PM suggesting that Rahul Gandhi is trying to wash away the sins of his father. Here he is again, suggesting that the Congress manifesto will benefit Pakistan, not India. Here, Modi again, saying Mamta Bannerjee sided with the mythical ‘bharat ke tukde’ gang.
The Indian Express asked Arun Jaitley about hateful remarks by a BJP minister. This is what he had to say:
Was he referring to Modi, to Adityanath, when he regretted people speaking “out of turn”?
An aside on this ‘tukde tukde gang‘. Just in time for the election cycle, the Delhi police filed an FIR naming Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid etc in the JNU incident. That FIR was “accessed” by Republic TV which, it is no secret, is just another version of NaMo TV, and splattered all over Hate Hour. Now the Delhi government tells the court that the chargesheet has been filed in “a hasty and secretive manner” without taking proper sanctions. And here are former ABVP office bearers from JNU saying what has been whispered around for a long time: that the whole thing was a set up, that the slogans were shouted by ABVP members in order to cause a controversy that would distract from the Rohit Vemula suicide. No surprise really, when you consider that it was Smriti Irani at the centre of the Vemula case, and that an aide of Irani’s was found sharing fake videos of the JNU incident. Also consider that Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami, then with TimesNow, was the one who first aired the fake videos and gave it the oxygen of publicity.
See how it works? You create the JNU version of Goldstein; conspire to make it appear as though they had asked for the dismemberment of the country, use state machinery to hound them with charges, use the publicity machinery to amplify those charges, and then the PM and his henchmen use those fake charges to smear anyone and everyone as being part of this mythical, seditionist, gang. The Delhi government meanwhile has sought a month’s time to decide on whether to file charges; it says it needs to determine whether the speeches were in fact seditious. If even that basic determination has not yet been made, then why is the charge of sedition hanging over the heads of those students? What tukde-tukde gang, when the government is not even sure whether anything happened? The incident happened in 2016 — why does it take more time? Because that is one more month they can extend this fake story, and provide ammunition for Modi and his cohort to continue rabble-rousing in the name of a case they know is a fake.
To return to that list of the PM and his henchmen going around with a forked tongue, here is the PM listing the many scams of the TMC regime in Bengal. Then TMC leader Mukul Roy, under CBI investigation in the Saradha scam, joined the BJP and the investigation eased off. Himanta Biswa Sarma, accused in the Saradha Chit Fund case, joined the BJP and, presto, the probe eased off.
Here is the PM… no, never mind. Roughly six months ago, as an experiment, I began saving string from the Twitter accounts of Modi, Jaitley, Irani and other prominent members of this government, as also from TimesNow, the Republic, ANI and suchlike amplifiers of government propaganda. Try it for yourself. Start now. Do it for just a week. Then step back and see what you have collected, what picture it forms.
We’ve had contentious, polarising, deeply divisive elections before — but we’ve never had one like this: an election where pretenders to high office go around the country spreading poison with a flamethrower. Yeah, I know, the imagery is a bit garbled — but then, we never needed a word for the mass dissemination of poison, before, so the vocabulary tends to be a bit handicapped.
I’ll leave these thoughts here for now, and be back later in the day. In passing, I have an image to leave you with: