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Politics as Puppetry
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Continued from “Damn the Facts: Just Beat the Drum”

Many Faces of Falsehood − III

There is hardly any doubt that in the 2014 elections, all opposition parties will hold UPA responsible for galloping prices, and how all-round economic sluggishness has exacerbated policy-paralysis, misgovernance and rampant corruption. The latest gimmick of Rs 1.15 lakh crore investments in infrastructure development in the private-public partnership mode will also come in for lot of questioning.

However, in any mature reckoning of the present situation, one vital area that opposition parties should thoroughly expose are the instruments dispensing falsehood − one after another. Chief among these are three.

  • First and foremost, the bogey of communalism and the wave of hysteria stirred against BJP.

  • Secondly, focus the attention of people at large on the docile role of media in aiding and abetting the spread of falsehoods.

  • And thirdly, to call in question phony claims of poverty alleviation and so-called progress made in various spheres of economy.

The first of these I propose to deal in this installment, and the other two, in the next.

Bogey of Communalism

Inevitably, as elections draw near all parties not supporting the official secular cult of the so-called First Family will be painted in most lurid communal colors. It is unfortunate that Modi has been singularly marked out for disproportionate condemnation and vilification. Yes, there were indeed communal riots in Gujarat in 2002. And such senseless violence anywhere is unfortunate. But no one – I hope including Sonia Gandhi - denies that wanton burning of the karsevaks in the bogey of Sabarmati Express led to violence the next day. Aren’t they tremendously naïve who imagine that the news will be followed by quiet prayer meetings for the dead? Isn’t it intriguing that not one of those who deem themselves as secular netas, spoke out against this ghastly act. Retaliatory anger was as justified as it was inevitable. And the riots that followed were, given the history of communal violence in Gujarat, were bound to occur. Had the BJP government sat back to watch the inevitable roll its course, the death toll indeed would have been, in all probability, perhaps five-fold more than the actual.

What is completely untenable in this melodrama is to singularly target the chief minister for political ends. And the national press hasn’t covered itself with glory to allow itself to be used as vehicle of Party propaganda. By relentlessly targeting Modi, the Left-leaning human rights activists have only sought to widen the existing religious fault lines in our society in the hope that it will benefit their political benefactors.

The signs, however, are quite to the contrary. The courts have repeatedly acquitted Modi; and, above all, people of Gujarat have repeatedly reposed their faith in him; and soon, the people of India may too. It is time to tell these scrappers of old wounds that enough is enough; is enough.

Debasing Language

It is so unfortunate that in this self-inflicted communal frenzy, we have allowed the language of political dialogue to be debased. If in a clash some Muslims are killed, our secular media cries itself hoarse about a pogrom against Muslims without the slightest thought about what pogroms were and the history of ethic prejudice the Jews suffered throughout centuries that this much-abused term indicates.

A pogrom is a violent massacre or persecution of an ethnic or religious group, particularly one aimed at Jews. The term pogrom is a Yiddish variation on a Russian word meaning “thunder”. It entered the English language to describe 19th and 20th-century attacks on Jews in the Russian Empire. Remember the Odessa pogroms, Warsaw pogrom, Kiev Pogrom and the like.

Take another oft-used term in this debate: genocide. The term was coined by Raphael Lemkin, in his famous study Axis Rule in Occupied Europe written during the Second World War. Strictly, it means the killing of a race or people. Lemkin was referring to the massacres of Armenians and Jews.

Defining genocide, Lemkin said it “does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.”

Having kept abreast with the political development of the last half century, would anyone in his senses call sporadic communal violence in India as genocide? If there is any happening that approximates genocide in the above sense, it was the ruthless extermination of 14,000 Kashmiri pundits from the Valley during the 1980’s. But secularism demands that we shouldn’t talk about it.

As a matter of fact, for centuries the Muslim minority ruling over India and armed with the power of the State has been perpetrating atrocities on the Hindu majority. It is an amply documented fact of history. Isn’t it ironic that that the victims of the past are being dubbed as perpetrator of the present communalism.

Witch Hunt of McCarthyism

Each society has its dispensers of falsehood who build their personal stature (and their fortunes too) by stirring a wave of hysteria over an issue exercising public imagination. Let me take an example from contemporary American history.

To advance his political career, Joseph McCarthy quit his job as circuit court judge and joined the Marines during World War II. After his short military career McCarthy ran as the Republican candidate for the Wisconsin Senate seat, where to promote his own campaign he used propaganda and erroneous accusations against his opponent, Robert La Follette. Damaging La Follete’s reputation by claiming that he hadn’t enlisted in the military during the war, McCarthy won the election and became Senator.

As re-election to the Senate loomed closer, McCarthy, whose first term was very unimpressive, desperately searched for ways to ensure his political success, resorting even to corruption. Edmund Walsh, a close fellow Roman Catholic and anti-communist friend came out with a brilliant suggestion − a crusade against so-called communist subversives. McCarthy enthusiastically endorsed the plan and capitalized on the Americans’ widely-shared fears of communism.

On February 9, 1950, McCarthy startled everyone with the claim that he had a list of 205 people in the State Department who were known members of the American Communist Party. The American public went crazy with the thought of seditious communists living within the United States, and clamored for the investigation of the underground saboteurs.

The trick is as old as hills. Will you recall the so-called will of Caesar that Mark Anthony had in his hand when addressing Friends, Romans and Countrymen,

he hath left you his walks,
His private arbours and new-planted orchards
On this side Tiber; he hath left them you
And to your heirs forever,

And when the crowd had been wildly stirred, he said to himself

Mischief, thou art afoot
Take thou what course thou wilt!

That’s exactly what McCarthy was up to. On his list were in fact not all communists. Some of them were confirmed alcoholics (like himself) or sexual deviants. Irrespective of facts, McCarthy relentlessly pushed his propaganda campaign and riding on its crest, he became the chairman of the Government Committee on Operations of the Senate, widening his scope to “investigate” dissenters. He continued to investigate for over two years, relentlessly questioning numerous government departments and the panic arising from the witch-hunts and fear of communism acquired a new name: McCarthyism. Most of the accused were innocent citizens and some celebrities like Drew Pearson.

McCarthy’s downfall finally began in October 1953, when he started to investigate “communist infiltration into the military.” This was the final straw for then President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who realized acutely that McCarthy’s movement needed to be stopped. The Army fired back at the accusations, sending information about McCarthy and advisors abusing congressional privileges to known critics of McCarthy. Reporters, Drew Pearson included, and other critics soon hopped on board, publishing unflattering articles about Joseph McCarthy and his methods of seeking out the supposed communists in America.

The real undoing of McCarthy and McCarthyism were the televised investigations into the United States Army and the reporters’ attack. Public at large began to realize that McCarthy was “evil and unmatched in malice.” He lost his position as chairmanship on the Government Committee on Operations of the Senate and in December 1954, a Senate censure motion, which is a formal reprimand from a powerful body, was issued condemning his conduct with the vote count at 67 to 22. The media subsequently became disinterested in his communist allegations and McCarthy was virtually stripped of his power. He died in May 1957 after being diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver due to heavy drinking.

The resounding effects of McCarthy’s era symbolized the pure terror of communism during the time due to the Cold War. Although it came to an end in a few short years, it was attributed to the growing dissension between the Soviets and United States.

Exposé of McCarthyism

That American classic, The Crucible, the 1953 celebrated play by Arthur Miller took McCarthyism head-on. It is a poignant dramatization of the Salem witch trials that took place (yes, in the present United States of America) in the last decade of the seventeenth century. Actually, the play is a powerful allegory of McCarthyism discussed above.

The US government was blacklisting Communists − real, and more so presumed. Miller himself was questioned by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956. He was, in fact, convicted of “contempt of Congress” because he refused to identify those who were present at some meetings he had attended. That was the time when “the Red hunt was becoming the dominant fixation of the American psyche” as Miller wrote in New Yorker in its October 21, 1996 issue.

The Crucible was an act of desperation; Miller was fearful of being identified as a covert Communist if he should protest too strongly.

Later the play was adapted as a movie. And Jean-Paul Sartre himself wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation. The play even now is produced around the world in times of political upheaval. “The Crucible” evokes a lethal brew of illicit sexuality, fear of the supernatural and political manipulation, a combination not unfamiliar these days. The crucial damning event in those trials was signing one’s name in “the Devil's book.” Nobody thought to ask what this meant.

Liars All

Most of the characters in The Crucible are lying. Yes, deliberately lying, if not to other people, then to themselves. Abigail, for example, lies about her ability to see spirits, as do the other girls. Proctor is deceitful first for cheating on his wife and then for hiding it. And the judge and lieutenant governor and ministers lie to themselves and everybody else in saying that they serve the cause of God’s justice. The twist in the story is that by telling the truth (“I am not a witch”), you die, but you also gain your freedom – that is, you retain your standing with God, and you become a martyr.

How very true of the contemporary burlesque mounted by writer-director Sonia Gandhi. All the characters do nothing but lie - both to themselves and others. Of course they still know what the truth is, but they have to read from the script. Nothing extempore is allowed. They must call the 2002 Gujarat the worst ever communal riots in India where thousands and thousands of innocent Muslims were done to death as the State Government merrily watched as Soniaji’s heart bled in helpless despair.

Is it not unfortunate that in our society it takes unconscionably long time to call a bluff? Hence the chapter of political puppetry that started sixty years ago has still not reached its denouement.


In this grim scenario, the only consolation is that ours is a land of seers, and the greatest among them were the anonymous gurus who in their hermitages contemplated and composed the Upanishads, the greatest of the world’s religious texts which represent, in the words of Arthur Schopenhauer, “the fruit of the highest human knowledge and wisdom, and contain almost superhuman conceptions whose originators can hardly be regarded as mere men.”

The sages who composed those immortal texts knew, as it were, how falsehood cannot be wished away and it may, from time to time, cast its spell on this land − a misgiving that the Founding Fathers of our polity probably shared when they adopted satyameva jayate nanrtam Truth Alone Triumphs not Falsehood − a mantra from the Mundaka Upanishad as the national motto of India. However long the spell of falsehood − nanrtam − it cannot continue forever. Ultimately, truth alone triumphs.

Today, it is falsehood that reigns supreme. This cannot last long. The dark clouds hovering around are bound to disperse. Once again, as many times before in our long past, the sun of truth will shine. That is the trumpet call of our Upanishadic legacy of freedom—not only physical but mental and spiritual.

Continued to “Your Most Obedient Servant Gene” 

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