Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pocket Edition

Arun Shourie

"Not one paisa has been taken from the Trust," declared the Congress spokesman with a show of righteous indignation. He was declaiming on the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. But the charge had been altogether different -- that the Trust had been a Government-trust, that it had received Rs 134 crores of Government money and 23 acres of invaluable land, that it had been converted into a private Trust by fraud, that the conversion had been sanctified by collusion between a trustee and the President of the Trust, Sonia Gandhi. Not one of these facts had been disputed by the Congress. Within days, the Delhi High Court itself came down in the strongest possible words on the fraud. It went so far as to say that the pendency of the writ before it must not come in the way of the Government undoing the usurpation.

But the Congress was following the rule: when cornered, deny -- with great passion -- what has not been alleged!

That "denial" was typical. The entire campaign of the Congress has been crafted around the all-too obvious rules of advertising companies, and the all-too obvious propagandists!

"The bigger the lie, the more likely it is to be believed" -- Hitler, not Goebbels; the latter counseled against outright lies! As Congress has become a synonym for corruption, allege corruption in everything the present Government has done -- even when, as in the case of the Telecom policy it has been done at your urging; as Kargil was a striking victory, assert that in fact it was a defeat; as Sonia Gandhi's foreign-ness is an issue, portray Vajpayee as a traitor.

"Confine yourself to little, and repeat this eternally," "A thousandfold repetition of the most simple ideas" -- both Hitler and Goebbels. That rule in turn rests on what is a fundamental proposition with such cynics: that the people have an extremely limited understanding. One must have the "courage", they said, to go on repeating those few points endlessly. "The nature of propaganda lies in its simplicity and repetition," Goebbels wrote in his diary, "Only the man who is able to reduce the problems to the simplest terms and has the courage to repeat them indefinitely in this simplified form despite the objections of the intellectuals will in the long run achieve fundamental successes in influencing public opinion. If other methods are pursued he may influence a circle of unstable intellectuals here and there but will not even scratch the surface of the people."

Sugar scandal, sugar scandal, sugar scandal.... Even after the lie has been nailed, in fact specially after the lie has been nailed you must go on repeating it. When, in the face of facts, you keep repeating the lie, the people -- of limited understanding as they are on this theory -- are liable to infer, "There must be something to it, the fellow would not go on sticking to the allegation."


(i) hurl a few simple allegations;
(ii) specially those of which the propagandists themselves are guilty;
(iii) repeat these endlessly;
(iv) specially in the face of facts.

The impression you want to convey about the adversary should be simple. To drill it in, you must have not one lie, but a barrage of them. In fact, you must not stick to one lie for long: the adversary will prove the truth with evidence. So, keep running. A fabrication every other day. True, soon enough that they were all falsehoods will be established, but by then the campaign will be over, the people will have been overwhelmed by other problems. Hence, Bhagwat. Then Mohan Guruswamy. Then Telecom Policy. Then telephone exchanges. Then sugar. Then wheat. Then planes. Then a Category-III flat! Back to sugar....

That Category-III flat was a quantum leap! The Congress spokesman had told all and sundry in Delhi with much flair that he was going to Lucknow to reveal a sensational, explosive scandal. The UP Congress scheduled a special press conference at noon for the explosion. A number of newspapermen turned up. Vajpayee applied for a flat and got an out-of-turn allotment in Delhi, announced the spokesman -- that was the explosion.

Pressmen were incensed. Is this what we were called for?, they remarked. At least Vajpayee paid for the flat. What about the persons sitting to your left and right? These leaders of your party in the state have not purchased a flat or two, they have just taken over government bungalows -- what are you going to do about that?....

Vajpayee has spent fifty years in public life. The "sensational, explosive" revelation of the Congress spokesman reminded people that he hasn't even a house to his name. That all he has is a Category-III flat. That too something he paid for. And who was the Prime Minister when this allotment was made?, the pressmen asked. Narasimha Rao, it turned out!

Soon it was established that some notable Congressmen too had been allotted flats from the same quota. The government had made the allotments for the distinguished services they had rendered to the country.

Not just that, the Supreme Court had instituted a detailed inquiry into out-of-turn allotments. Every irregular allotment had been scrutinized. The allotment to Vajpayee had never been called in question as being even faintly irregular. On the other hand, two Governors -- conspicuous members of the Congress -- had felt constrained to resign. Cases were going on against the then Congress ministers for converting their discretionary quotas into commerce....

The footnote to the story was truly delicious. It turned out that the spokesman who had traveled all the way to Lucknow to make this sensational disclosure, and his family members had received not a Category-III flat, but five plots of land from Bhajan Lal, the then Chief Minister of Haryana! Each one of the five had been an out-of-turn allotment. Bhajan Lal's largesse had been taken to court. A Division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court had found the allotments to be so bereft of merit that it had canceled all of them in March 1997. Of the five plots, the spokesman and his family had to forfeit three -- the remaining two had survived because the Court chose to put the cut-off date at 1995, and these two had been made over earlier.

But it would be wholly wrong to think that there was any remorse at having hurled such a silly allegation. The purpose of such hurling is not to convince, but to confuse. Corruption was your characteristic. By these allegations -- wild as they are -- you convey that the facts which have been established about your misdeeds are also just allegations. Second, that similar allegations exist about your adversary too.

The Congress seems to have been advised about an additional advantage. Should your adversary bring up some new embarrassing facts about you during the campaign, you can take the high road, and regret that the campaign, "instead of focusing on real issues," has descended to personal attacks! Better still, you can get friendly journalists to lament "the levels to which the campaign has descended"! This in turn yields several advantages.

(i) You are seen to be concerned about "the real issues".
(ii) That you are the one who has been hurling baseless allegations is covered up.
(iii) You and the adversary are put at par.
(iv) Once you have conditioned the people to believe that everybody is hurling allegations and charges, you don't have to answer the facts that have been revealed about you -- they are no better than the baseless allegations which you have been hurling!

The more unverifiable the "event" the more useful it is for lies! Summarising the practice of master-liars, Jacques Ellul cautions, "Such lies must not be told except about completely unverifiable facts. For example, Goebbels' lies could be on the successes achieved by German U-boats, because only the captain of the U-boat knew if he had sunk a ship or not. It was easy to spread detailed news on such a subject without fear of contradiction." Hence, fables about unrest in the Army "because the Prime Minister is not speaking up to shield the higher command in the wake of the controversies that have risen as a result of the letters that Brigadier Surinder Singh is said to have written..."

As there is always the risk that some damned fool may come out with the facts sooner than you expect, a handy device is to demand, "All we are asking is that the Prime Minister come clean with all the facts." That leaves a way out: "After all, what did we demand? All we said was that the Prime Minister come clean with the facts." Even better, the demand sets you up as the referee! The Prime Minister is to state the facts, and you will decide whether what he has disclosed amounts to "all the facts"!

Recall Sonia Gandhi's response to questions about her friend, Ottavio Quatrocchi. There are no papers which link him to Bofors, she said. If there are any such papers, let them show us the papers, she demanded. The first part was an outright lie: when the judgments of the highest court in Switzerland, of the Delhi High Court, of the Supreme Court were given out, sudden silence.

A glance at the advertisements they have placed in the newspapers -- and even more, the advertisements worth crores which they have had placed in the name of a near-bankrupt organization, "Communalism Combat" -- will show that there are other Goebbelsian maxims too which the Congress has been following in this campaign.

The negative is stronger than the positive: not one positive advertisement in their entire series.

Hatred is stronger than love: killers of the Mahatma, butchers of Christians....

Fear is stronger than hope: the advertisements placed in the name of "Communalism Combat" are textbook illustrations of this maxim.

The central ingredient here is an instrumental view of truth! The test is not whether what one is saying is true or false. The only test is whether it serves the purpose!

In a sense, therefore, it is indeed appropriate that the Congress fielded a lawyer as its spokesman! In theory, lawyers are supposed to be officers of the court. In fact, large parts of the profession have come to believe that their job is to serve their client --- and for the purpose use whatever device seems handy.

So, it has been entirely in character, that the spokesman should -- in his capacity as a lawyer -- have appeared for private cellular operators and argued that the then Telecom Policy with its high license fees was a disaster, and, when the switch was made to a revenue sharing regime, the very same person should -- in his capacity as spokesman for the Congress -- have denounced the changeover, and alleged a scam. It was entirely in character for the spokesman to have raised doubts about the Prime Minister having acquired a Category-III flat in a perfectly normal manner, when he and his family members had got Bhajan Lal, the then Chief Minister of Haryana, to grant them -- not one but -- five plots out of the discretionary quota. It was entirely in character for him as the spokesman of the Congress to cast doubts at the professional integrity of the Attorney General, without mentioning that in his other capacity he is the lawyer for a paper in a suit which the Attorney General has been constrained to file against it for the falsehood it published about him. It was entirely in character for him to be releasing fabricated letters ostensibly written by a Brigadier, and thus, apart from advancing the interests of the Congress of which he was the spokesman, building up a sort of defence through the press, without disclosing that he was himself the lawyer of that Brigadier.

Of course, I do not want to push the parallel too far: Goebbels and his kind -- Lenin and his lot, to take an allied example -- were masters -- diabolic masters. These fellows are just pocket editions! Those masters would never have put out statements which were so patently false: that Vajpayee is a traitor, that he was arming the ISI and the Pakistan Army to invade Kargil... The lies of Goebbels, Lenin and company held the field for decades. These fellows' allegations could not withstand a simple miscalculation: that the campaign was a little longer than usual turned out to be enough for their allegations to be shown up to be the falsehoods that they were...

Saved again! In 1987-89 we had been saved by the ham-handedness of the forgers. This time we have to thank the incompetence of these fabricators.

India Connect
September 27, 1999

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