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Sunday, April 11, 2021

April Fool’s Day no biggie, here are 5 ways how political parties fool us all year round!

Lies and hoaxes. Dupes and tricks. Following saffronisation of almost 95% of Indian states in terms of Assembly poll win and with state elections on in five states, the realisation hits us hard. Not a single jumla by Amit Shah or a petty false claim by a minister, fooling the entire citizenry has become almost an art for political parties now.

The biggest dupes of the BJP

  • Sometimes they announce a grand stimulus “package”, claiming to be it’s worth Rs 20 lakh crore or “10 per cent” of India’s GDP. But do you know barely a fraction of it is new money being pumped into the economy? Did you ever know that what is made to look like a stimulus is mostly a grand loan mela? Like millions of fellow Indians, you may not, because this is how the rulers fool you. And it’s so subtle that we don’t even realise or feel too paralysed to alter the situation.
  • The Centre made hungry/half-dead migrant labourers for their train fee to go home. When the issue became a political hot potato, it said it was spending for 85% of the fare and the states were paying the rest. But the truth was 85 per cent was notional subsidy — in effect, the migrants were being charged the usual fare, and in some places, even more.
  • Modi on the top of his voice claimed that there had been no talk of a National Register of Citizens in his government, when in fact both the President and the Home Minister had said it in Parliament.
  • The PM said the objective of demonetisation was to seize and destroy all black money but when that didn’t work, his government kept giving various excuses to cover its failure of the move. Many hoaxes to hide one truth that demonetisation had failed.
  • Electoral bonds make political donations opaque, but the Modi government says they bring transparency. The ways the Modi government lied and duped us could create an unending list.

The ‘fooling machinery’ is well-established

Those going to cast their votes in Bengal, Kerala or Assam these days and take their “revenge” on the BJP, hoping for a “better” tomorrow, don’t forget to consider the Saradha-Narada scam in the TMC reign. Kerala voters know how the Pinarayi Vijayan government is struggling to come clean on the gold scam. Assam residents are well aware of how the Louis Berger scam had hit the then Congress-led government. The hoaxes, dupes, tricks and lies are endless. We just mentioned one/two of them as examples. Unfortunately, our choices to select our future leaders are scanty, meaningless and uncertain.

Here 5 ways how political parties make fool of us all year round: Know them now and act wisely!

Miriam Mathews and Chris Paul in 2016 wrote a research paper for US think tank RAND Corp on how the Putin government in Russia established “fire of falsehood” and benefits from it. The researchers found some distinct propaganda models/features in the Putin government. The pretty similar features can be found in the Indian context as well, no matter which party rules.

1. High volume of falsehood on multi-channel platforms

The rulers’ propaganda machine will bombard people with a false message through multiple channels, such as Facebook page, Twitter handles claiming to be Indian Muslims saying the same things as the far-Right Hindutva handles. Of course, some of the handles are fake. But when you see everyone from a Bollywood actor to a cricketer support an idea, you’re inclined to doubt yourself.

2. Rapid and repetitive falsehood

The hashtags, memes and emotionally charged videos will be ready before any announcement is made by the rulers. The moment the announcement is made, both social and mainstream media will start bombarding you with texts in support of it. The volume and speed of the propaganda will barely leave you with the mind space to judge for yourself.

3. No link to objective reality

We know why and how fake news works: confirmation bias, information overload, emotional manipulation, the willingness to believe a message when it is shared by a trusted friend, and so on. There’s no dearth of this in any political party propaganda ecosystem. There are countless fake news factories. The mainstream media itself has been co-opted to manufacture fake news at scale, as the absolutely fictional charges of JNU students wanting India to be split into pieces (“Tukde tukde gang”) shows.

PM Modi himself is happy to lie for political posturing: from attributing a fake quote to Omar Abdullah, to saying there are no detention centres in the country etc.

4. Lacks commitment to consistency

This is the bit where the fake news and claims are exposed, and yet they don’t hurt the leader. One day the Modi government says demonetisation is for destroying black money and next day it says it was to push cashless transactions, and third day it says the idea was to widen the tax base. Similar, Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee came to power, saying the Left rulers caused the Nandigram massacre. Now after she lost all her heavyweight leaders to the BJP, she is saying former TMC leaders Shubhendu Adhikari and his father gave permission to “police” to kill villagers.

Ordinarily, such contradictions should hurt the credibility of any government. But, coupled with the three points above, the RAND researchers suggest, “fire hosing” manages to sell the changed narrative as new information, a change of opinion, or just new, advanced or supplementary facts presented by different actors.

5. Weak opposition, unaware/ignorant voters and mouthpiece media

These are the other multiple reasons for which the trickery by political parties continues. Who is going to oppose? The Opposition party? They themselves have a poor “track record”. Remember the 2G scam, DLF land grab case among others in UPA rule? Also, still a huge chunk of people in India are illerate or can’t distinguish between government-made “truth” and actual truth. And last but not the least, we know how media outlets can be sold! How false government claims can be “Republic”! Isn’t it?

What’s happening here is the plain assertion of power. Our politics has become a contest of who gets to lie and get away with it and who will have to go on a back-foot when their lies are caught. Unfortunately, almost all parties are unanimously saying: ‘Yes we will lie to make a mockery of your questions. Do what you can.’

Let’s start changing this before next April Fool’s Day arrives! We shouldn’t lie to our next generation, right?

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