In Part I of this series I explained what is truth, and why we pursue it.
Part II: Post-truth already existed in India, why suddenly now talk about it?
My interest in the word post-truth and the concept began in 2016 when the it was chosen as ‘word of the year’ by Oxford dictionary. Although it has been in usage in media since around 2010, they found that the usage had increased many fold in 2016 in the context of Brexit in UK and Donald Trump’s elections in USA. From 2016 to 2019 many op-eds have been written by New York Times, Guardian UK and others on the topic of post-truth era and post truth politics. I got more and more interested and over the last few months I have been reading many of the op-eds and columns in the western media.
As I read, I realized that the exact same politics of blatant lies, distortions, half-truth, alternative facts, creating fake narrative, deflecting criticism by peddling counter baseless narrative bereft of facts and logic, use of digital media, photoshop, selective editing of videos to twist facts are all happening in India too. But not many Indian editors/thinkers are talking about it. Why? I wondered. Digging deeper I learnt that a counter narrative has emerged among Indian thinkers which is dismissing the western narrative that world has entered post-truth era only after 2016 (Prof Ranjit Goswami’s article dated January 23, 2017 on The Conversation is the most influential in this regard).
“Dismissing the existence of post-truth by post truth are we?” was my first thought.
You see everything is political after all. As a centrist I fail to understand the tendency to dismiss everything that comes from West, a habit both right wing and left wing have. “Just because West is talking about something why should we also talk about it,” is both wing’s default position, unless the West gives them validity or solidarity. For the Right when West does Yoga. And for Left when UN reprimands Indian government for human rights violation or some white woman or man exposes Modi’s lies. Something like that. Anyway, I digress.
So one section of Indian thinkers seem to have dismissed the question of post-truth politics in India by saying, “Oh c’mon, the Western thinkers are now waking up, we are already seeing post-truth since 2014 when Modi came to power riding on lies. What do you think demonetization was? And why is West suddenly so outraged now, didn’t they go to war with Afghanistan and Iraq in name of WMDs and other fake narratives?” That is more or less the crux of Prof Goswami’s piece.
Indian Right Cannot Acknowledge Post-truth, it is their secret weapon after all
The Indian right on the other hand no intention to acknowledge that post-truth exists in India because it is right wing’s forte. They rise to power using post-truth narratives – the three musketeers of post-truth being Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi. Why will they write critical pieces on their best weapon?
To my previous blog, where I explained the epistemological journey of truth and quest for knowledge and said that the scientific revolution of 18th century Europe gave man the quest for truth, rationality and objectivity, before that they just believed in God, some of the Indian right wing Twitter handles outraged and said “What Europe? We had science in vedic age.” And to that I replied,
Why talk about post-truth politics in India just because West is suddenly talking about it?
I have understood the core argument in Prof Goswami’s piece, that India have been in post-truth for yeas but I have a slight disagreement, with all due respect. He seems to have dismissed the West’s sudden awakening as hypocritical (though he never used that word) but isn’t it the same group of people who were back then also speaking up writing op-eds against those wars and now speaking up against Donald Trump? I merely ask. Why dismiss the whole idea of post-truth politics. True, unlike the West in India we are witnessing it since 2012 or even before, BJP’s entire election campaign being a post-truth narrative but it scaled up in last 4 years, so it is legit to now talk about it.
Instead of making a case for political scientists to observe and analyze the growing post-truth narratives in India, Prof Goswami’s piece appears to be dismissive and gives the impression that we in India need not bother with this ‘western concept’.
But I want to bother
I do want to bother myself with the daily lies and fake narratives and keep tracking them. Everyday in the news I come across fake narratives, ideological clashes between deeply polarized groups, each holding extremely rigid opinions and each member in a group carrying a mob mentality without leaving a space for dialogues. On every issues there are two warring camps, even when it seems somethings cannot be logically contradicted because they are objective truth. For eg the case of 49 filmmakers expressing concern over mob lynching vs. 62 filmmakers dismissing their concerns and calling them anti-national; 108 economists expressing concerns over GDP data vs. 131 CAs dismissing the economists. This polarization is a manifestation of post-truth era when truth has no meaning anymore. No shared pursuit of rationality or objectivity. It is all about the emotional outrage. The BJP’s fake news factory and social media army is mainly responsible for this but there are also general public who join this war on Social media. I will be tracking all these trends and phenomenons related to the post-truth politics in India on this space over the days to come.
Ideally, I should be publishing these as a series on some media. Like a regular column in a paper or news website. But the space for writers has shrunk in India. The media houses are either low on budget or they are getting just too many submissions, and also take pieces only with particular style and politics.
So my dear old blog to the rescue.
Next: A literate review of the existing op-eds on EPW, The Hindu, Open Magazine, The Week, Countercurrents and few other pieces on post-truth politics in India.