“Have any houses been set on fire? Has anyone been raped? the leader thundered shortly after the genocide in Gujarat in 2002. His regional audience knew what they wanted to hear. “No, no,” they replied. Today the national public is slowly, carefully prepared to accept the lie.
The leader tests his people. He checks their pulse every day. He needs to know if people are walking away from him. He needs to know how willing they are to duck with him.
How superficial and violent are people? To what extent can they submit to his demand for obedience and shamelessness? How far can people continue to align with fraud, without opposing it? How callous and cruel can they become?
The chief trains his people all the time. He has to do it relentlessly. He knows there is no guarantee. Just because people are with him today does not guarantee that they will be with him tomorrow. He has to make them practice these emotions, so that they stay with him.
Consider why Donald Trump had to maintain its swaggeracade, despite public humiliation and his ousting from the White House. Take note that Trump’s base of support hasn’t shrunk much. Trump cannot afford to admit his mistakes or apologize for his actions or change his political and social behavior. If he does, his “authenticity” in the minds of his supporters will be called into question. And it will lose its base of support. The whole world can criticize Trump. Yet his people will continue to trust him as long as he remains adamant. The slightest hesitation or deviation from his previous position will have the effect of shattering his image in the eyes of his followers.
People often wonder why a leader like Trump is lying, why he is spreading hatred, or why he is trying to divide the people. They don’t understand that this is a Trump exercise to train the people. People are surprised by the statement of the Prime Minister in Parliament, when he ridiculed the peasant movement.
He thinks farmers are fools who can be fooled by certain “professional agitators” and “parasites”, who are leading the movement at the expense of farmers. He says the movement is sponsored by foreign hands. He says this when the movement grows stronger day by day, spread more.
Yet the Minister of Agriculture told parliament a white lie. He said there was “confusion and opposition” only in a state concerning new agricultural laws. And even after millions of people have taken to the streets against the laws, the Prime Minister is not paying attention.
The Prime Minister has had a lot of practice in this strategy. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, after the 2002 massacre, when the world criticized him for his mass violence against Muslims, what was his reaction?
If you remember the Gujarat Gaurav Yatra, you can understand how people are trained to believe lies. Over 1,200 people have been killed, thousands have been displaced and ordinary people have participated in targeted rapes and killings.
Yet, soon after all this, the chief minister of Gujarat might ask: “Have any houses been set on fire? Has anyone been raped? Of course, people told him what he wanted to hear. No, they said.
We have seen videos of these public meetings. People knew what had happened. Among those killed were children and pregnant women; the houses were set on fire. Perhaps some of his audiences who said nothing had happened even participated in the violence.
Why did their leader ask them whether murders and rapes had been committed or not? The chief only wanted one answer to this question. When he asked if there had been a murder, he wanted to hear them say that there had been no murder. He wanted to hear lies from them.
People knew what their leader wanted. Neither the rape nor the murder had happened. It was propaganda from “outside elements” that were against Gujarat and its beloved chief minister. It was just a baseless accusation. At the request of the Chief Minister, what was true was declared false by the public.
Today this is happening nationally.
The fact that the Babri Masjid was built by demolishing the Ramjanmabhoomi temple was one of those lies. 12,000 years of antiquity of Indian culture is another. That Bangladesh wants to take control of India is another.
How do these lies gain strength? Because the other political parties cannot oppose it. Because the temple of Ram lie was supported by other political parties, because they could not resist this lie. When a leader repeats a lie with confidence, his authenticity increases in the eyes of his people. There is a proportional increase in the pride of its people.
Jawaharlal Nehru, while speaking about the relationship between Gandhi and the Indian people, said he took it to a very sublime level. The leader and the people managed to keep this level for a very long time.
Once people are drawn into the quagmire of lies, they can also stay there for a long time. Violence can be provoked against anyone who tries to get people out of this quagmire.
Right now, the Prime Minister is doing this. At least Trump had some opposition within the Republican Party. But the Bharatiya Janata party is completely under the thumb of the Prime Minister. The media desperately want to not only support but glorify the Prime Minister.
That is why the Prime Minister can ignore the huge mass movement of farmers. His dismissive, sarcastic and condescending tone is also reinforced by these factors.
Indians who have chosen the Prime Minister as their leader are tested. Unless the people refuse to be tested by their leader and reject that leader, their lies will become the truth.
Apoorvanand teaches at the University of Delhi.
Translated from the Hindi original by Anant Mariganti
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