Needed Urgently: A Ruthless Counter To The Propaganda Of The Old Congress-Left Ecosystem

Needed Urgently: A Ruthless Counter To The Propaganda Of The Old Congress-Left EcosystemVarious party heads attending the swearing-in of H D Kumaraswamy as chief minister of Karnataka on 23 May, 2018 (Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Leaders of the ruling dispensation, though committed to the Indic civilisation cause, are rather unprepared to counter the disinformation and half-truths propaganda, and wilting under the slightest pressure.

In a half-baked democracy like ours, there are major fault-lines that have been left behind by the departing British colonials. These fissures, of course, were originally created by more than 700 years of ruthless invasion by Central Asian marauders.

This messy and creaking structure was then left pretty much unaltered by the assorted groups and cabals that were in power in Raisina Hill from 1947 onwards, till the new dispensation assumed office in May 2014. It was never going to be easy for the administration in the block to clean the Augean stables, and this was factored in by the Bharatiya Janata Party-National Democratic Alliance (BJP-NDA) regime after it took over. However, it was soon obvious that the current dispensation was woefully unprepared and miserably underpowered when it came to tackling the rearguard elements of the earlier rulers.

This author has recently attempted to build an analytical framework to study how oligarchies and elites defeated in political battles try to undermine their successor regimes by all means, fair or foul, mostly the latter.

However, since my article was published earlier this year in March, the situation has become more volatile in the country. The Congress-United Progressive Alliance (UPA) agitprop machine has gone into overdrive and has launched numerous attacks on the Union government, concentrating most of the barrage on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The focus of their attack has been the Rafale fighter deal for the Indian Air Force which was finalised in September 2016 after more than a decade of stop-go negotiations.

Veritably, the Rafale (which, in French, means ‘a gust of wind’) contract has provided the sinking Congress-UPA ship a major boost, almost resuscitating it from the morgue. The ramshackle vessel has picked up speed and is launching repeated salvos on the BJP-NDA juggernaut. Rahul Gandhi, in particular, is giving this matter all the attention with his vocal supporters in the mainstream media (specially the English language units) trying to make hay while the sun shines. The level of the debate in the print and electronic media is shrill, uninformed, woefully twisted and distorted. The media organisations that are even remotely objective in this war of words can be barely counted on one’s fingertips.

The ruling dispensation is strangely defensive and confused when it attempts to counter the assault. The ministers and the party spokespersons appear tongue-tied and unprepared in this battle where no quarter is asked and none given. Although these lapses cannot be pardoned, since history is always written and/or revised by the victors, we should look back and assess how similar scenarios were enacted in history for these offer invaluable lessons.

The first lesson from the past that I will spell out for the readers is the conspiracy against the Popular Front government in France in the mid-1930s launched by the opponents of the radical regime. These included the country’s big business groups, the old guard remnants like the aristocracy, the Catholic Church and sympathisers of the Nazi – Fascist regimes in Germany and Italy.

As in other European countries, France, in the 1930s, saw extreme social tensions and class warfare. Coupled with this, was the fall-out of the Great Depression from the late 1920s and early 1930s. In January 1933, Hitler had come to power in neighbouring Germany and a year later, the mobilisation of a large number of right-wing forces and former Royalists brought about the downfall of the French government.

The Popular Front (PF) won the parliamentary elections in 1936, and the Social Democrat, Leon Blum, formed a government with the Radicals, that was supported by the Communists. Encouraged by what appeared to be a favourable electoral result, the working class undertook a series of strikes and factory takeovers that spread like wildfire and culminated in a general strike which mobilised two-and-a-half million people. France was on the brink of a revolution.

The PF government introduced the much-need social-welfare and economic reforms, in the form of wage increases, a 40-hour working week, paid annual vacation and medical assistance to workers in various industries.

The right to strike and to collective bargaining was also institutionalised. All this led to major opposition from big business, the church and the residual aristocracy. The extreme right wing took on the PF government both in Parliament and also outside.

Opposition to the Front Populaire (FP) was not limited to propaganda. An extremist group called the Cagoule tried to launch a military putsch against the government but, fortunately, it failed. However, a number of persons associated or sympathetic to the FP were murdered. A brutal press campaign against the government was launched. Roger Salengro, the Socialist Minister for the Interior (equivalent to our Home Minister), was falsely accused of cowardice in the battlefront during the First World War and was driven to suicide.

The parallels to contemporary India will not be lost on our readers, though exact equivalences, understandably, will not be present in every instance. The important phenomenon that one should be able to identify clearly is the ever-present threat of widespread internal disturbances (engineered by the opposition) that confronted the PF regime.

We now come to the other historical example of entrenched oligarchies conspiring to destabilise a legitimate government. This is the coup against the popular Republican Government in Spain in the 1930s. Here, again, the forces on either side of the divide were broadly the same. The opponents of the Spanish Republican government, elected in a free democratic election by a substantial majority, comprised the Catholic clergy, the landed gentry, and the upper-class officers in the armed forces.

Unlike in France, Spain saw a large-scale military conflict between the legitimate Republican administration and the coup forces led by General Franco (comprising the officer class and the colonial troops from Spanish enclaves in Africa). These insurgent army units were overtly supported by Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, while the Republican government’s armed forces were denied arms supplies because of an international embargo led by Britain and France.

In the collective memories of our generation and even the younger ones, the Spanish Civil War resonates strongly after all these decades. There is George Orwell’s landmark Homage to Catalonia to start with, which is an autobiographical work and a socio-political study at the same time. Then there is Ernest Hemingway’s epic novel For Whom the Bell Tolls and its equally iconic cinematic version (starring the incomparable Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant). Finally, there is the musical legacy of artistes like Pete Seeger and his haunting Jarama Valley.

The lessons of the Spanish Civil War for contemporary India are many. The primary one is the theme of this essay – how elites, oligarchies and well-endowed pressure groups (often supported materially and financially from foreign countries) can derail the democratic structure and its functioning in a country. Orwell’s summary verdict on this tragic historical episode was that Francisco Franco’s military uprising against Spain’s elected government “was an attempt not so much to impose fascism as to restore feudalism.”

I do not fully endorse this conclusion but the Indian experience of the Yadavs, Gandhis et al indicate that there is a lot of substance to this train of thought. The BJP-NDA redux of 2014 upset the apple carts of many semi-feudal barons and these forces are not the ones that will lie down and fade away.

Before concluding this analysis, we must remember two other instances where blatant fabrications and lies have been used to materially affect political decision-making in democratic countries. The first is the instance of the fabricated Zinoviev Letter published by the British newspaper The Daily Mail just before the British general elections in October 1924. This blatant forgery was a crucial factor in the resounding Conservative victory over the ruling Labour government.

It took the British government more than 75 years to admit that the Zinoviev Letter was an outrageous forgery that vitally affected British political history. The country’s secret service MI6 was most certainly a primary suspect in this cloak-and–dagger affair. What should be of considerable interest to Indians are the similar attempts in our shores to derail official decision-making, even in highly sensitive areas like defence and national security.

The other example of fabricated lies, distortion and untruths to influence international opinion and political decisions is the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, first released In Tsarist Russia in 1903. This crude and obscene publication purported to show that Jews were planning a global hegemony by subverting the morals of “gentiles”.

Although proved to be bogus in the course of a Swiss trial in 1934-35, the publication was extensively used by some Christian and anti-Semitic forces to further their agenda. Henry Ford contributed a large sum of money in the 1920s to print an English translation of the publication for distribution in the US. The Islamic world still believes in the authenticity of the document and regularly uses it in its propaganda efforts against Israel and anti-Islamic movements.

At this juncture, what we see in India is blatant disinformation and crude propaganda by a large coalition of forces opposed to the Indic civilisation cause. The current government is clearly perceived to be favourable to this cause, although some observers would say that it has actually been rather feeble, hesitant and defensive on this front.

This brings me to the last issue about the “wallflower” stance of the leaders and spokespersons of the present dispensation when they are confronted with untruths, fabrications, forgeries and half-truths. They seem to be wilting under the slightest pressure. Worse, they are very deficient in doing their basic research necessary to counter the propaganda war against them. Surely, this is a disservice to the larger cause that they had sworn to defend when they faced the national electorate in 2014.

Research has conclusively shown the importance of the illusory truth effect (also known as the validity effect, truth effect or the reiteration effect). This is the tendency to believe information to be correct after repeated exposure. When persons are called upon to assess truth, they first assess whether the information is in line with their understanding or if it is familiar. Clearly, the agitprop team in 10 Janpath in Lutyens Delhi is very familiar with all these techniques.

We have to end with George Orwell and his 1984: “In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy”.

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