I recently watched some episodes of The Bletchley Circle on Netflix. Set in 1952, it shows four former cryptanalysts who broke German ciphers and codes during World War II using those skills to solve murders. As serials go, it is pretty forgettable, but it is interesting to see how the women search for a pattern in each episode, and then try to break it down.
Talking of patterns, the universe might have its Fibonacci but India has an entire array of faithful Goebbelsian acolytes. All you have to do is pay attention and you will clearly see the patterns of manipulation being carefully drawn every single day.
Coinciding with the visit of PM Modi and Premier Xi to Mamallapuram, the hashtag #GoBackModi began to trend on Twitter. Within a day, at least four TV channels broke the news that Pakistani handles were behind the hashtag. Conspiracy to defame India, they screamed. Why invoke Pakistan? Because it is not convenient to acknowledge any native opposition to Mr Modi. The next day a minister claimed that the anti-Modi narrative in Tamil Nadu had been wiped out. It took an investigation by fake news buster AltNews.in to prove that 70% of the tweets had originated in India, with 60% of these from Tamil Nadu.
If not a single day passes without threat alerts from our dear TV channels, it is because theyre using a propaganda tool called FUD Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. It is meant to create panic and make people instinctively turn towards authority figures, in this case the government.
Similarly, just as snake oil salesmen quote experts to peddle cures for everything from balding to impotence, you will find cricketers and movie stars endorsing everything from demonetisation to surgical strikes to toilets. It is called the testimonial, another propaganda tool.
This gets more worrisome when reputed organisations trip up. A debate was organised by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) last month, on the topic of whether terrorism can be tackled effectively while observing human rights. On this platform, a CRPF jawan gave an inflammatory speech calling even for suspicious wombs to be destroyed! Several questions emerge. First, why on earth would NHRC even debate this topic given its very charter lays down that human rights must be observed regardless of arena? Second, why was the speech made public? Third, why did NHRC award this speech the consolation prize, thereby contradicting its own raison detre?
Days later, at another NHRC function, Home Minister Amit Shah said that western standards of human rights cannot be applied to India. What does this even mean? What is a Western human right versus an Indian human right? Are Indians lesser humans? Are we tougher? Better equipped to handle invasions on our right to life, liberty, equality and dignity which the rest of the world guarantees its citizens? Would North Korean standards be better suited for us? When this comes just days after RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat claims that lynching itself is a Western construct, one wonders at the larger pattern of human rights dilutions that these lines are beginning to draw.
It is important to notice that these are not random, isolated or throwaway utterances. They add up to something vastly more sinister. If we parse Amit Shahs speech at the annual RTI convention, we see how calculatedly he juggles words, using what propaganda scientists call the PT Barnum technique, named after that famous American showman. It basically means that you spew out vast, comforting generalities even while you mean the exact, frightening opposite.
Transparency and accountability are the twin pillars of good governance, said Shah. Which sounds good, but less so when followed by his claim that the government is so transparent now there is a minimum need for RTI applications. The Acts core objective is to create trust among people sounds great, but not so the advice he simultaneously gives the CIC to inform people why theres no need to file RTI applications.
As RTI expert Anjali Bhardwaj said, citizens should be able to access the information they need and not just the information the government wants to publicise. But that spirit, alas, might be quite alien to this government.
Publicity and mind manipulation, after all, is what they do best. And you dont need to be a Bletchley Park code-breaker to see that.
Where the writer tries to make sense of society with seven hundred words and a bit of snark.