Before I speak of post-truth or post-truth politics in India, a brief introduction to the journey of mankind’s pursuit of truth and knowledge.
‘ways of knowing’ or ‘epistemology’
Quest for truth and knowledge forms the foundation of civilizations. But not merely knowing the truth, but knowing, recording and passing it on to next generation is at core of human civilizations.
Millions of years ago when we were not humans we didn’t care about ways of knowing. We knew things but we didn’t care much about how to know or how to record, and pass on. We were busy with surviving and procreating. But even then, we made cave paintings and tried to create knowledge and also communicate. But it wasn’t until we learned to speak, read and write that is not until language was formed that theories of knowledge came into existence. The history of human civilization, ways of knowing is too vast for this space. For the present topic, I will begin at the time when we already had many civilizations on the face of earth each making its own progress in field of culture, language, art, architecture etc. Humans were already aware of many things but there was still many things they didn’t know or understand.
The things they didn’t know/understand they attributed it to God or nature. Why did the earth shake? Gods must be angry. Religion was already invented and there was certain Orders people had faith in. Belief or faith in a higher order was the basis of knowledge during this time.
Scientific revolution and Enlightenment
This changed everything. It was the seed of the modern world we live in today. Man decided to reject the superiority of God and religious orders, and took to knowledge and reason to be the master of his own destiny. Positivism emerged in 18th century Europe with philosophers like Auguste Comte, JS Mill, Herbert Spencer who started looking at the world in very different ways owing to the scientific revolution Europe had witnessed through 16th and 17th century. Science, rationality, atheism, critical thinking, rejection of idealism, abstracts were some of the ethos that formed the basis of positivism. Only that knowledge was considered true by positivists which could be seen, heard, touched, observed, quantified and replicated in a scientific way. Everything else like human emotions, experiences, romanticism were rejected from the realm of knowledge creation.
Positivism remained the basis of knowledge creation and knowing and understanding the universe for a long time, unless critical realism, post modernism and subaltern studies like post-colonial theories, feminist epistemology emerged. These branches rejected the supremacy of objectivity, quantification, verification and foregrounded subjectivity and lived realities of every human. They rejected the idea that there is such a thing as ‘whole truth’ or that there is anything to be known or capable of knowing by humans or that there is only one proper way to know.
Post-modernism to post-truth and post-truth politics
Now comes post-truth a time when subjective realities is stretched too far to prove and disprove whatever knowledge and narrative suit the populist sentiments. Anything and everything is accepted as truth so long as a formidable leader with mass appeal is able to touch a chord with the masses, sway them with great oratory skills and convince them to accept their narrative without questioning.
While Donald Trump is considered the trend setter, Boris Jhonson is the latest star of post-truth politics and our Prime Minister is not far behind. According to a CNN op ed, Donald Trump lies more often than an average American washes hands every day. In his first 869 days as President, Trump said 10,796 things that were either misleading or outright false, according to the Washington Post’s Fact Checker. Mirror UK listed 37 lies and gaffes that apparently make Boris Jhonson unfit to be the Prime Minister. Back home, according to fact checking website Alt News PM Modi lied 10 times in 2017, and according to Fack Checker India it was 43 times in 5 years.
Post truth politics is a global phenomenon, with the word ‘post-truth’ being chosen as the word of the year in 2016 by Oxford Dictionaries. The usage of the word increased many fold in 2016 in the context of the Brexit and Presidential election in USA. But ‘global’ doesn’t include India as most op ed columns, journal articles, and books on post-truth are authored by American or British thinkers in the context of EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States. Indian analysts are yet to write elaborately on the nature of India’s post truth politics.
The topic of truth always interests me, one of the reason I named my blog, ‘This Is My Truth’. So over the next few days. I will keep a track on this topic in this space, sharing all the instances of post-truth politics in India.
Post-truth Politics in India
BJP’s 2014 elections was largely based on the post-truth narrative that Congress party has no contribution to independent India that during the entire period from independence to 2014 they only looted India as did the Mughals and British. They started a hate campaign against Congress leaders particularly of the Nehru Gandhi family, which continues till date, maligning their characters, integrity, personal life and even death.
BJP’s IT cell head Amit Malviya tweeted fake photoshopped images of Jawaharlal Nehru in company of some women in order to pass him off as a perverted womanizer. The woman in the photos were Nehru’s sister and niece pictured with him in no more “perverted” manner than how a certain BJP leader was seen with his daughter in a photograph he tweeted (now deleted).
In the photo, he was seen sitting on a sofa, and on the handle of the sofa was his daughter sitting holding her father’s hand. When I saw that photo, my first response was that he should delete it as it was susceptible to misuse and misinterpretation if used without the context and if people don’t know the woman in the picture was his daughter. An art perfected by BJP’s Amit Malviya. He doesn’t feel any moral guilt in using photos of women and men who are long dead to peddle a fake narrative about Nehru. Such is the loss of ethics and morals in this post-truth politics.
In 2016, soon after Modi government de-classified hundreds of files related to Freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose fake letters of Nehru were made viral with hashtags like #NehruKilledBose and #NehruBuiltModernIndia. The letter in circulation was soon called out as fact by several sources from media to historians, but that part is immaterial. The headlines and the hashtags had already created the narrative that remains etched in public conscience.
From around 2012 onward, photoshopped images, memes, jokes were spread to create Rahul Gandhi’s ‘pappu’ image which consisted of calling him idiot, dumb, joker, comedian, half brained, under developed, man child who still watches cartoon network and hides behind his mother’s saree pallu. There were no facts in this narrative, only highly provocative triggers for the online masses to go ahead and lash out at a public figure with all the hate in the world. The provocation often comes directly from BJP IT Cell head Twitter’s account containing contain ill-timed photographs or cleverly edited videos of Rahul Gandhi aimed at comic relief. These are then spread by other BJP leaders and influencers like pro-BJP journalists, bloggers etc. In Nov 2017, jokes went viral that Rahul Gandhi said he will install a machine to turn potatoes into gold. Rahul never said any such thing. But if you only watch a 20 seconds video clip edited out of the longer version of his speech, you would indeed see and hear him speaking in first person, “I would install such a machine that if you put potatoes from one side it would give you gold from the other.” He said it, but he didn’t say it, what’s the truth here? The truth is that for those 20 seconds Rahul was using sarcasm and mimicry to allege Mr. Modi of showing bizarre unrealistic dreams to potato farmers of turning their potatoes into gold. Who comes up with such sinister ideas of taking a 20 seconds of audio video clip out of context to suit a particular narrative, and why? And why do millions of social media users actually believe that he might have said it? Why does it stick on even after several media platforms busting the fake narrative?
To be continued in parts. Featured image courtesy LSE Blog.