Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Big Lie: Why Joseph Goebbels and his propaganda philosophy is relevant today more than ever

(This article was first published at Devdiscourse.com, please click on the link to find it)

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

This is Joseph Goebbels’ famous, or rather notorious view on the “Big Lie”. This, later on, became the fundamental philosophy of the Nazi state’s propaganda machine. Contemporary philosophers analyze our times in reference to this doctrine and label our time as the times of post-truth, where truth loses its value when it clashes with such ‘big lies’.

In today’s India, the opposition and the political left finds it comfortable to compare the Narendra Modi administration, which is backed by the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), with the Nazi state. The argument is simply that the RSS-BJP clique wants to establish a Hindu Rashtra on the lines of the anti-Semitic ideology followed by the Nazis.

But, one needs a deeper analysis on the nature of the Modi administration and the Indian state of today. We definitely live in the times of post-truth which is evident from numerous cases of violence and injustice which result from fake propaganda circulated in the social media. But, is the government itself safe from such ‘big lies’ is a question that needs introspection.

Last month, during his Mann ki Baat episode, Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with farmers from across the country. One among them was Chintamani Kaushik, a woman farmer from Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district.

The video available on the official twitter handle of the PM shows a confident Chandramani confirming that her income got doubled after she got involved with the Krishi ATMA (Agriculture Technology Management Agency) Yojana. She said that her income used to be around Rs 50-60 before but has now grown to almost Rs. 700. The details of the income-expenditure model were not discussed and the PM happily generalized that farmers are growing under his administration.

However, ABP News did a real ground reporting and met the woman for an interview. The revelations that came after that was outrageous.

The ABP reporter asked the lady if her income has actually doubled to which she had no clear answer. Her comrades in her Self Help Group (SHG) denied that they have got any benefits. Instead, some shocking facts came out. Chandramani alleged that some officers of ‘Delhi’ came to see her and offered her a meeting with the PM if she said what she said in the live video.

Now, there are two possibilities for such a situation. Either the government is fully corrupt from the top to the bottom and PM Modi was aware that the lady was lying, or Modi himself was in darkness about the actual condition of his fellow citizens and thumping his 56-inch chest cruising on lies. Either way, it’s a massive failure of governance. More so, because one of Modi’s election motto in 2014 was “Pro-People, Good Governance or P2G2”.

Propaganda is not only a tool of the government, sometimes the opposition capitalizes on it too.

Last month Thomson Reuters Foundation published a survey report which declared India as the worst place on earth for women. Devdiscourse rebutted with responsibility immediately.

Read the article here: Thomson Reuters Foundation survey on women security and its rubbish India angle

But, the Indian intelligentsia, as well as the political class, danced in the tunes of a foreign news agency. The opposition attacked the government based on the survey which was conducted only among 500 odd ‘experts’ and had no connection whatsoever with the ground realities. Yes, India has gender issues, but again, is India worse than war-affected countries like Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, etc.?

The Thomson Reuters Foundation survey also works like a propaganda material for the opposition to bash the ruling government. In fact, today the opposition has been running a parallel propaganda campaign as well against the Modi regime as if Hindu Rastra bill is on the Lok Sabha floor. An engineered fear psychosis has resulted in a social binary and xenophobia. Because of the success of the ‘anti-Hindutva’ propaganda, the general masses are questioning even genuine motives of the government like the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission).

Devdiscourse carried a follow-up story regarding the Reuter’s survey exposing the ones who buy such propaganda.

Read the article here: Thomson Reuters Foundation Survey: Et tu, Brute? says India to Indians giving it heed

The government also is undoing its wrongs through massive state-sponsored propaganda.

On December 8, 2016, at 8 PM in the evening PM Modi surprised and shocked the nation by announcing the demonetization of high-value currency notes.

He said that the reason for demonetization was to nullify the black money and black market in India which fuel not only poverty and unemployment but also terrorism. Indians bought this that night and cooperated. After 56 deaths and no necessary outcome, the strategy changed and a massive propaganda campaign was launched in favor of cashless transactions and digital India. Modi could not explain killing 56 people for making India a cashless economy, which failed miserably too. The basic point is that the Prime Minister failed in his governance and tried to cover it up with the ‘cashless economy’ propaganda.

Propaganda in the post-truth era has infected our society inside out as well.

According to a report by News18, a single Whatsapp message has killed 31 people in India by mob lynching. A fake message spreading ‘awareness’ about child lifters has been circulating via the IM app and has triggered locals to lynch outsiders to death in Gujrat, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Assam, and Tripura.

Whoever wrote the message did make sure it spread far and wide and did translate it to different languages too. Or it could be a case of mass hysteria where people believed what they saw in a Whatsapp message to be fact and forwarded it further. But this is also a classic case of failure of state on the face of propaganda – propaganda of hate, xenophobia, and misinformation.

Joseph Goebbels formulated a propaganda theory and machine which he could control. In today’s times, his disciples have adopted his philosophy but could not estimate the role of digital media and communication technology in the whole game. Thus, propaganda has become uncontrolled, like the nuclear reactor in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. We definitely need a Batman in these times of confusion.