World over, facts are no longer sacrosanct. From Donald Trump to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, from Vladimir Putin to Narendra Modi, it is abundantly clear that the Enlightenment Age has been pushed back into the dark now.
You don’t have to dig deep to figure that out. Just look at these recent examples.
In Assam, the National Register of Citizens or NRC was meant to identify illegal immigrants. Over 100 terabytes of data, thousands of hours, Rs 1,100 crore and much harassment later, 19 lakh were excluded (including Hindus) in the final list. So, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has now declared that no Hindu migrant will be called illegal.
Former Union minister and a leader of the Ayodhya Ram Mandir movement Chinmayanand has finally been arrested. Allegations of sexual misconduct against him are not new. But still, the so-called swami was welcomed politically by all, from Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Adityanath.
When the Indian economy is facing a severe crisis and the Modi government is taking extreme steps to bring back normalcy, does it make any sense for Indian news channels to continuously harp on emotive, communal and jingoistic issues? When did we last see news channels doing shows on job loss or stagnation in demand or rural distress?
How to whip up cultural paranoia
This is not an article about fake news or post-truth in the age of irrationality. It is about the paranoia leaders en masse are whipping up to combat facts.
Emotive issues, the world over, are getting more traction facts, as William Davies, a political economist at the University of London, argues in his latest book Nervous States. For instance, fake news-busting organisations like AltNews or the Congress data cell hold no candle to the BJP IT cell.
“Democracies are being transformed by the power of feelings in ways that cannot be ignored or reversed. This is our reality now,” writes Davies.
We are in a world where racist Donald Trump wins, where Brexit gets unparalleled support, where climate change is denied. The era of logico-deductive method of reasoning is over.
In India, the Narendra Modi government too is following the same pattern. Whip up emotions and the cultural paranoia will follow – NRC, Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, scrapping Article 370, UAPA.
Media has done its own bit by broadcasting these ideas to whoever will watch. One news channel even said Pakistan has the moon on its flag, so Indian space rover Vikram is going to land over it.
The ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event in Texas was more about emotions and standing ovations than trade or international relations.
The message is always emotion over reason.
In such a scenario, is there space for a rational debate on, say, India’s performance in the human development index or why no Indian educational institution has found a place in the top-300 list prepared by the Times Higher Education?
How to deploy facts
A chief minister can say that the internet existed in the times of the Mahabharata and get away with it. A sitting judge of a high court can say that Brahmins are born great and get away with it. An ISRO chief sees no wrong in offering prayers in the temple before the launch of space missions.
In this era of passions, the biggest casualty is the intellectual architecture of reason. Or are the rationalists and liberals missing the lived realities of the masses by dismissing emotive issues as less important or irrelevant?
The rationalists have ceded ground to the Right-wing by ignoring the cultural paranoia as fake news. And the Right-wing has exploited it to their advantage.
So, what is the way ahead for rationalists and liberals? As Davies argues: “We have to take people’s feelings seriously as political issues, and not simply dismiss them as irrational.”
Easier said than done. More so for the politicians of the opposition camp as PM Narendra Modi is the master of invoking the emotional Furies.
Look at how Modi treats the issue of making India a $5-trillion economy – as an emotional idea, as a matter of pride, not growth.
It’s of no consequence that the BJP spokesperson may not know how many zeros are there in a trillion. We may laugh at Sambit Patra, but the economy was not the BJP’s priority anyway. Modi wants to make India great again, they say. He wants to restore India’s hurt civilisational pride.
And that’s where he, his party and their IT cell win over facts, every day, every second, every corner of India.
The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.