May 17, 2016

Making Goebbels proud of India (Jawed Naqvi)

Dawn - May 17, 2016

Making Goebbels proud of India

BJP PRESIDENT Amit Shah flashed a 2013 copy of Outlook magazine to an election crowd in Kerala last week. It had a cover story on malnutrition and infant mortality in the state’s tribal belt, but the photograph used on the magazine cover was from Sri Lanka.
It was the same as the picture taken in the ‘no firing zone’ of Jaffna in 2009. The same photograph was used by the US State Department in a report on Sri Lanka. It is another matter that Kerala’s human development index is the best in India.
Most politicians are good or bad liars — Nixon, Clinton, Bush, Blair, Netanyahu, the works. Goebbels had a PhD in hoodwinking the confused and distressed Germans. Political liars take recourse to untruth as a compelling exigency or to address a sudden emergency. The Hindutva DNA alone thrives on lies as a high strategy, a cynical political requirement to tarnish the opponents with calumny and innuendo. Lies are used to brainwash young minds in school and often enough to set off a chain of violence on the streets to bring in votes. Goebbels would have a thing or two to learn from his Hindutva fan club.
Lies are, however, a curious feature of democracies for despots rarely have to fib to their subjects. A Saudi preacher with his monarch’s blessings doesn’t have to hum and haw on TV to illustrate how you should thrash your wife. In democracies, currently more so in our patch, this responsibility would likely be dressed up in parliament before it is quietly farmed out to the khap panchayats and Hudood ordinances.
As Hitler was an elected politician initially he needed a pack of canards to kick-start his tenure. Lies were laced with cooked-up history and shored up with mythology. This Hindutva practitioners replicate diligently and to great advantage. Musharraf didn’t need to lie to stage a coup, but felt compelled to tell one or two fibs when he faced a referendum.

Whatever the truth about Modi’s degrees, his Hindutva ideologues planted far more serious falsehoods for political advantage.

Wag the Dog was an instructive movie about lying for high stakes. It was set around the time of the Iraq war. A scandal-tainted American president seeking a second term hires a famous film director to conjure up a crisis to divert the people’s attention from the scam. Dustin Hoffman plays the gullible director who magically creates a nuclear crisis in an obscure corner of Europe. The presidential candidate resolves the fake crisis for improved ratings.
There is confusion about Prime Minister Modi’s educational qualifications these days, not that it matters all that much. If anything, people of his stature have been rewarded with amazing victories for horrific crimes in India. Fudging educational qualifications is small beer. Next week, Modi will be stepping into his third year in office. He won the elections for his image as a tea vendor not for his glowing intellect. To add to the humble origins effect, he even got the laws changed in Gujarat, which qualified him as a backward caste Indian, a shrewd move some years ahead of the national polls.
Neither Indira Gandhi nor Rajiv Gandhi, born as they were with the proverbial silver spoon in the mouth, was a graduate however. And, if Narasimha Rao was a well-read Brahmin it was of little use on the most crucial day of his career, Dec 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid was razed and he slept through the frenzy. Modi can be in trouble if the election commission finds his degrees fake, for he could be accused of (needlessly) falsifying personal data. That, however, could be tantamount to investigating a traffic offence by a getaway car.
None of India’s leaders had so far felt the need to claim academic qualifications they didn’t have. Modi, his opponents say, has exaggerated his educational achievements. The accusation has set off a round of high-profile counter attacks. His party president no less and finance minister were roped in to display what they claimed to be proof the prime minister did, in fact, get a BA degree from the Delhi University and an MA degree from his native Gujarat. But the unyielding detractors are wondering how a computer printed his BA mark sheet when the technology didn’t exist in 1978, the year he took the BA exams.
Whatever the truth about Modi’s degrees, his Hindutva ideologues planted far more serious falsehoods for political advantage. And these were not harmless lies that Matilda told for fun. To stir up communal trouble in Muzaffarnagar, the Hindutva lot faked a photo from Pakistan to propagate the alleged mistreatment of Hindus by Muslims, suggesting that the offenders were local goons to be dealt with. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to link that picture with Modi’s sweeping victory in Uttar Pradesh. People were maimed, raped, looted and killed on the basis of that lie. The subsequent lynching of a Muslim ironsmith in Dadri was based on a similar lie.
Lies spread faster on the social media. And thanks to a quirk in technology I have often found myself staring at a bizarre Hindutva link squatting on a newspaper website. According to this set of no-holds-barred abuse, the Nehru-Gandhi family has all manner of blood coursing through their veins. Does Nehru’s blood flow in Sanjay Dutt’s veins asks a typically scurrilous piece planted on the commandeered website. If you were not inured to the Hindutva falsehoods you would wade through the links and discover the canard of actress Nargis’s mother and Sanjay Dutt’s grandmother Jaddanbai being an illegitimate daughter of Motilal Nehru.
The other day a reader asked if there were atheists among Muslims. I sent her a list of 20 Indians that I could count readily, including a well-known male historian and a woman social activist. According to Hindutva’s Goebbels the atheists were actually Muslim zealots masquerading as communists to cheat the voters in Kerala and Kolkata.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.