People’s power to forget is enormous, said Hitler on value of propaganda

BJP lost in Bengal, TN and Kerala. It lost Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Punjab and Chhattisgarh earlier. Defections in Goa and MP helped it crawl back to power. It barely won in Bihar. But…

Photo Courtesy: PTI
Photo Courtesy: PTI

Ranjona Banerji

Suddenly, after seven years of consistent hero worship of the great Narendra Modi and his version of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Indian politics has entered the rollercoaster section of our democratic amusement park. It took one defeat in the Bengal assembly election in May this year for the ride to get bumpy.

Modi and the BJP coasted through the arbitrary, demonic demonetisation of 85 percent of Indian legal tender in 2016, through the economic chaos that followed, through a vicious and violent campaign against Muslims, Dalits and religious minorities, through assaults on citizenship rights, on the rights of Kashmir, on free speech and expression, on democracy itself.

The massive appeal of Modi overrode all of Modi’s own disasters, regardless of a few defeats here and there, a few people who died, a few who suffered… The overwhelming victory in the 2019 general election was the best stamp of approval from Indians ever.

Or so people were made to think because being made to think what someone wants you to think is an integral part of neo democracy where “political consultants”, “election strategists” and their social media bombardment replace the ability of the voter to think for themselves. Democracy overridden for the “greater good” of the chosen political candidate and party. If you are consistently told that there is no other alternative, at some point you may well believe it.

Propaganda is not new, and someone or the other has done it before you. But the thought-controllers will have you believe that since Q, W and E had done it before, R and T are thus perfectly justified in messing with your mind. For a while, maybe you believe this.

Then, sometimes, something happens. It could be a war. It could be a devastating pandemic. It could be that little child who speaks the truth the adults cannot see. It could be none of those things. It could just be that someone somewhere woke up and one morning and forgot to turn on the propaganda machine.

The one that told you that election results in Punjab did not matter, because The Leader is still the most loved. And did a survey to “prove” it. Or that the results in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were aberrations to be overturned. Or that what happened in Maharashtra was some canny chicanery. Or that Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand don’t matter.

The BJP’s losses in Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala happened in May. The big effort for Modi and the BJP was Bengal and that loss rankles. Even if the propagandists presented a defeat as a victory. It rankles. Because the result went against the massive efforts of the machine. Nothing worked. The misogynistic catcalls, the chest thumps, the tears, the promises, the massive money spent to lure away both candidates and voters: did not work.

The Prime Minister abandoned a nation bent backwards by a virus and it did not work. The great oratory. The wily machinations of the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the greatest election manipulator ever. Did not work.

And now, it just got worse. Not even two months after Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress thumped the BJP in Bengal, an exodus out of the BJP begins. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The pattern is for rats to jump ship from other political parties and join the BJP. What sort of a rat leaves a party, joins the BJP with followers and then jumps back into the TMC, taking those followers with him as Mukul Roy has just done?

Maybe, it’s the sort of rat that makes a few calculations and opens his eyes to life around him in India.

Power is a potent aphrodisiac. But it can stink. And right now, there is an overwhelming stench of the dead bodies floating in the Ganga, of shallow graves across all riverbanks, of crematoria working overtime… That smell of death is all-pervasive. And maybe, not everyone likes it. Maybe there’s not a lot of favour to be gained when a populace is scrambling for livelihood on its hands and knees…

There’s a long way to go of course before any of us can get off this ride. The propagandists are not going to stop so easily no matter the stink or the setbacks, when it comes to puffing up the wannabe emperor. And equally, pulling down any challengers, whether putative or as yet unknown.

As Lewis Carroll put it, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. Just don’t listen to those propagandists!

(The writer is a columnist. Views are personal)

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