“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
Joseph Goebbels said that. Supposedly. In the recesses of the internet you find sites dedicated to disputing whether the Reich’s Minister for Propaganda actually said or wrote the words ascribed to him.
Leaving aside the provenance of the quote for the moment, the words themselves are an apt, extended summation of the tools and tactics of state propaganda. Here it is, in action at the TimesNow “summit” yesterday (By the way, these “summits” are just another tool by which the government rewards friendly media outlets — big-wig participation is the carrot, withholding it the stick — but that is a subject for another day). Listen:
No such comment was made, says Amit Shah when asked about campaign speeches where the speaker said the protestors of Shaheen Bagh will enter your homes and rape your mothers, sisters and daughters.
Shah was, of course, lying. BJP MP Parvesh Verma, the most offensive campaigner in a criminally offensive BJP campaign, said exactly that:
Having lied about one of the most offensive statements heard during the campaign, Shah then puffs out a word salad about different hierarchical levels within the party, to suggest that some lower level functionaries may have made certain objectionable statements, but the party had distanced itself from such remarks. (This business of the BJP “distancing itself” is beyond ridiculous — I’d done a post on this three years ago; it has only gotten worse since).
Shah was lying, on both counts. Firstly, it was not some low-level functionaries who were responsible for such incendiary statements, but the likes of MP Parvesh Verma, Union Minister Anurag Thakur, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP CM Ajay Singh Bisht, who began his campaign with this:
Shah also deftly avoids mentioning that Kapil Mishra, who takes the “credit” for coming up with the goli maro saalon ko slogan, was given a party ticket after he had premiered that slogan at a pro-CAA rally.
Shah was also lying when he said the party had distanced itself from the more extreme comments: Neither he, nor the Prime Minister, nor BJP’s titular president JP Nadda, had made a single statement condemning those statements. In fact, when Parvesh Verma was banned by the EC for his “rape your mothers…” comment, the BJP gave him a speaking slot during the Lok Sabha’s vote of thanks for the President’s pre-budget speech.
While on the BJP distancing itself from intemperate comments, it is worth noting that OP Sharma, the newly-elected BJP MLA from Vishwas Nagar, continues to claim that Kejriwal is a terrorist. It is also worth mentioning that the media continues to dutifully report and amplify comments that are clearly, and criminally, libellous.
What is noteworthy about the Shah segment is the way the event was used to give Shah — who had gone silent after the announcement of the Delhi results — an opportunity to minimise the fallout of his party’s toxic campaign, and to walk back the more incendiary of the statements.
As you watch that video, keep an eye on TimesNow’s Rahul Shivshankar, in the front row, nodding along in agreement with Shah. See this tweet from Sunil Jain, Managing Editor of the Financial Express, approving Shah’s “maturity” and hoping that this is a “new dawn”; listen to the applause when Shah says maybe the party paid a price for incendiary slogans, but adds that since no one writes down the reasons for their vote on the voting slip, it is hard to tell.
Note also that a vicious communal campaign is being analysed not in terms of the harm it has done to the nation, to the way it has vitiated public discourse and vilified one community — the whole discussion is cynically, solely around the calculus of electoral gains and losses.
In course of the session, Shah also produced jaw-dropping statements such as: (1) Everyone has the right to protest — which of course explains why he has used the full might of his police to unleash violence against protestors at various venues across the national capital while his henchman Bisht has raised state brutality to a whole new level in neighbouring UP; and, (2) That there is no bar on Indian politicians visiting Kashmir and that his ministry will give permission to anyone who wants to go (The obvious question — why is there a situation where an Indian citizen requires official permission to visit Kashmir was neither asked, nor answered).
While Shah used a convenient platform to normalise the abnormal, other worthies continued to sow the seeds of propaganda elsewhere. Thus Sanjeev Sanyal, Principal Economic Advisor to the government, was concerned with the question of why Gandhi had done nothing to save Bhagat Singh — the absolutely most important discussion to have at a time when the economy is imploding across every conceivable sector.
And the Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar took time off to peddle the old fable that Nehru did not want Patel in his Cabinet — a statement that led to an online spat between him and historian Ramchandra Guha. Jaishankar was, of course, lying, as Jairam Ramesh (thread) and others were quick to point out:
Think of all this, and then go back and read that possibly apocryphal Goebbels quote, and this actual passage from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (in the James Murphy translation):, where he accuses the Jews of inventing the “big lie” (projecting onto the “other” that which you yourself are guilty of is yet another tried and tested weapon of propaganda):
All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.
It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.
Finally, ask yourself why a government, with an unprecedented mandate and facing unparalleled crises across multiple fronts, finds the need to spend so much of its time lying about things big and small.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in our country:
In Goa, a district magistrate imposed Section 144 citing intelligence inputs of possible terrorist threats, only for the baffled police to respond that there was no such intelligence. Meanwhile, the Karnataka High Court ruled yesterday that the imposition of Section 144 in Bangalore was illegal. The section was imposed, for three days, on December 18. It took till February 13 to correct that injustice — and that is precisely what the government counts on when it acts in draconian fashion.
In UP, a 15-year-old was raped by a 30 year old man last August. Since then, her family has reportedly been facing threats and harassment, asking that they “compromise”. Her father had been threatened; the family had filed an official complaint to the office of the CM, which was ignored. Two days ago, the father was shot dead.
AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan, in the wake of his stunning victory from the Okhla constituency, asked his supporters not to celebrate his victory because of the ongoing protests against the CAA/NRC/NPR at Shaheen Bagh and elsewhere. Meanwhile in UP, his family alleged that police had entered their home, abused and assaulted family members, and misbehaved with the women. And the troll factory continues to demonise the MLA — the most recent items in the vilification campaign include an allegation that Khan said Islam will triumph all across India, which maps to Sambit Patra’s earlier allegation that Khan wants to “create Shariya“, whatever that means. Remember Shah talking about party hierarchy, and how the party has official leaders and spokespersons while suggesting that the statements of others don’t count? Sambit Patra is the official spokesperson for the BJP, and the party is yet to “distance itself” from him.
Also in UP, Dr Kafeel Khan, who was arrested for making a speech during an anti-CAA rally at Aligarh Muslim University and subsequently given bail, had not been released as of last night in a clear case of contempt of court. The chief judicial magistrate has therefore sent the bail order to the jail by special messenger, with orders to the authorities to expedite the release. Khan, you will recall, had been arrested and charged with neglect of duty by the Bisht government in the wake of the death of dozens of children in a Gorakhpur hospital, only for the courts to find no evidence against him.
Still in UP, “An air of despondency hung over the defence manufacturers expo in Lucknow last week,” says a Bloomberg report on the defence expo in Lucknow last week, and mapping this despondency to a crippling funding crunch that has impacted the government’s $250 billion defense modernization program.
In the wake of the BJP’s defeat in the Delhi elections, the GoI has decided to step up its ad blitz highlighting its achievements, such as they are. As of December 2018, when this question was last raised in Parliament, the government in a written response said it had spent over Rs 5000 crore in the period 2014-2018. Note that this is government money — to wit, taxpayer money — spent to aid the political party’s campaigning. Note too that giving or withholding advertisements is how the government both entices and coerces the media into toeing its line.
Which reminds me: Donald Trump is coming to India, and expects to see between five and seven million people lining the road from the airport to receive him in Ahmedabad. Where the civic body is busy building a high wall to ensure that Trump and Modi will not see slums en route. That is the Gujarat Model in action — remember what happened earlier, when Xi Jinping visited Gujarat’s capital city, which under Modi is the preferred destination for all visiting dignitaries?
It was tarpaulin then; it is a wall now, which is appropriate since it is Trump who is visiting this time, and Trump is a big fan of walls that someone else pays for. The entire city is getting a makeover — Indian Express has an entire image gallery devoted to this, while ANI has images of the wall being built. Imagine the money being spent, and ask yourself why similar urgency and similar amounts of money never seem to be expended on improving the actual living conditions of the poor, rather than on hiding their plight from VIP eyes.
The irony is that the single biggest sticking point between the two countries is the trade deal, which has been the subject of much backstage diplomacy for close to two years now. The deal was supposed to be — hyped to be — signed during the earlier Howdy Modi event in Houston; now Trump is coming and the hypemeisters are holding out hope that the deal will be signed this time.
It won’t. Here is just one more indication why:
In a notice issued by the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) earlier this week, India has been removed from the list of ‘developing’ countries and instead will now be considered a ‘developed’ nation.
Ram Madhav of the BJP was among the first to tweet out the news, to a chorus of congratulatory chest-thumping by the faithful. Neither Madhav nor his chorus appear to have realised that in actual fact, this means India is no longer eligible for benefits under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) governing US trade deals. Elsewhere, in the build-up to the Trump visit, four US Senators have written to the US Secretary of State expressing their concerns about the situation in Kashmir, and also on the CAA/NRC. A resolution on similar lines, moved by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, is meanwhile gathering steam and at last count had 49 co-sponsors.
None of this will impact the Trump-Modi love fest, episode 2, because Trump is way too dumb to grasp such issues, and way too narcissistic to care. But it is still worth noting, because for all the hype that is being drummed up around the Trump visit, India’s international image is taking a godawful beating.
In this connection, I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the book A Very Stable Genius, by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker (emphasis mine):
The second week of November, President Trump took his first trip to Asia, a five-country, ten-day journey that concluded in the Philippines, where he attended a global summit of leaders.
On November 13, Trump sat down with Modi in Manila on the sidelines of the summit. Tillerson had high hopes for the meeting—even though, back at the White House, Trump was known to have affected an Indian accent to imitate Modi, a sign of disrespect for the prime minister.
As with most of his foreign leader meetings, Trump had been briefed but didn’t appear to have retained the material and instead tried to wing it. He took a hard right turn into a nitpicky complaint about trade imbalances. Modi tried to refocus on the threats India faced from Afghanistan, China, and Pakistan. His mention of Afghanistan led Trump off into a lengthy tangent about how stupid it had been for the United States to maintain its military presence in Afghanistan for so many years.
When Modi mentioned his concern about China’s ambitions and aggression in the region, Trump revealed a stunning ignorance about geography. “It’s not like you’ve got China on your border,” Trump said, seeming to dismiss the threat to India. Modi’s eyes bulged out in surprise. Aides noticed him giving a sidelong glance at Tillerson, who accompanied Trump as part of the U.S. delegation.
The Indian prime minister considered Tillerson among the best-versed Americans on the region’s security challenges, and together they had been plotting a new partnership. Tillerson’s eyes flashed open wide at Trump’s comment, but he quickly put his hand to his brow, appearing to the Indian delegation to attempt not to offend the president as well as to signal to Modi that he knew this statement was nuts.
Trump did not appear to notice their silent exchange. He just kept rolling, droning on about unrelated topics. Modi tried to keep the conversation on an elevated plane, hoping to follow the path Tillerson had laid out for them in the previous weeks to work together to protect India and fend off China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
But each time Modi tried to get Trump to engage on the substance of U.S.-India relations, the American president veered off on another non sequitur about trade deficits and the endless war in Afghanistan. Those who witnessed the meeting that day in Manila were disheartened.
Modi’s expression gradually shifted, from shock and concern to resignation. “I think he left that meeting and said, ‘This is not a serious man. I cannot count on this man as a partner,’ ” one Trump aide recalled. After that meeting, the Indians took a step back” in their diplomatic relations with the United States.
Sure, let’s hide our slums and smooth out our roads and truck in “millions” of people to give Trump (and Modi) a right royal photo-op.
PS: In my post yesterday, I mentioned that the BJP had secured 36 million votes in Delhi. The actual number is around 3.6 million; my apologies for mistyping. (Just another reminder to myself that I either need an editor to go through my copy, or I need to be a whole lot more careful and do a re-read before posting.) Thanks to the readers who pointed this out.
Update, 2.30 PM: Refer to the Dr Kafeel Khan segment earlier in this post. Now this: Even as the chief judicial magistrate personally intervenes to secure Khan’s release, the UP government has charged him under the draconian provisions of the NSA. What exactly did he say?:
That is it. That is the case.
One incident in which you have it all: Total contempt for the rule of law and of the courts; absolute intolerance for any form of dissent; brazen misuse of power in the firm belief that there will be no retribution — all totalling up into a state, larger than many nations, that has totally, possibly irrevocably, failed.