Remember how Krishna planned the killing of Guru Dronacharya, the invincible commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army, in the Mahabharata war? Drona had one weakness — Ashwathama, his son who was also a doughty warrior.
Krishna got Bheem to kill an elephant named Ashwathama and spread the rumour about the death of Drona’s son. Drona wouldn’t believe it until Yudhisthir, the eldest Pandava who was a dharmraj or the epitome of righteousness, confirmed it. Yudhisthir, complicit in Krishna’s plan, replied: Ashwathama hatah, iti narova kunjarova (Ashwathama has been killed, but don’t know whether it was a human or an elephant). Drona could hear only the first two words as the second part of Yudhisthir’s sentence got drowned under the loud noise of Krishna’s conch shell. Drona dropped his arms in despair and was killed, as planned by Krishna.
This mythological story somehow rings a bell whenever I listen to ministers in the Narendra Modi government nowadays — be it on the India-China face-off at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), Covid-19 management, state of the economy, or even insignificant affairs of governance. They all sound like modern-day Yudhisthirs, with Krishnas blowing deafening conch shells at the right time.
The China truth
When defence minister Rajnath Singh spoke on China in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, every word he said was factually correct. “No force can stop us from patrolling on Ladakh borders,” Singh thundered in the Rajya Sabha. But what about the Chinese blocking our access to several traditional patrolling points in Ladakh’s Depsang Plains and Gogra. Well, if you haven’t heard of pre-truth yet, don’t bother about his speech.
The defence Singh asserted in both houses was that “transgression attempts” by China were foiled. So, are the reports about the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) occupying areas between Finger 8 and 4 on the northern bank of Pangong Tso wrong? Well, he didn’t say so. He just didn’t mention it. Was Singh re-iterating Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 19-June remark that no one intruded into Indian territory? Not exactly. Did Singh say so? No, not in as many words.
To repeat, every word Rajnath Singh spoke was factually correct.
Mahabharata’s Yudhisthir affirmed Ashwathama’s death but qualified it immediately to try to remain truthful. His modern-day incarnates in the Modi government stop at Ashwathama hatah because the rest are “operational details”.
Slaying the coronavirus
On Covid management, health minister Harsh Vardhan declared in both houses of Parliament that early lockdown prevented 14-29 lakh Covid cases and 37,000-78,000 deaths. These projections came out in a study commissioned by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. Opposition parties may question the findings of a government-commissioned study, but the point here is different. Why is our health minister silent about the results of the serological survey conducted by another government institution, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)? The result estimated about 64 lakh adult Covid infections by early May—about 10 lakh more than the official number of infections today, four months later.
So, which of the two surveys should we trust—the one based on mathematical modelling and commissioned by a ministry or the serological survey conducted by the apex biomedical research body in India? Either the lockdown prevented 14-29 lakh Covid cases or it miserably failed with over 64 lakh cases going undetected. Well, minister Harsh Vardhan would speak about the first study only.
Doubling farmers’ incomes
Because everyone is talking about farmers today, let’s look at what the Modi government has to say about the BJP’s promise to double their income by 2022. In a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha last Tuesday, the agriculture ministry informed that for doubling farmers’ income, the target year is 2022 and the base year is 2015-16. As per the estimates of the committee, average income of an agriculture household stood at Rs 96,703 per annum for 2015-16 at that year’s base price. It differs from state to state, of course—from Rs 2.31 lakh per annum in Punjab to Rs 45,000 in Bihar.
Dushyant Singh, the BJP MP who had asked the question, wanted to know whether the target set for 2022 can be achieved with the current annual growth rate percentage. The government didn’t give a direct answer, instead providing a list of 17 schemes and interventions it has launched for the “benefit of farmers”.
There was also a caveat in that answer: “Agriculture being a state subject, the state governments undertake implementation of programs/schemes…. Government of India supplements the efforts of the state governments….” States should, therefore, be prepared to take the blame if farmers’ incomes don’t double in the next two years.
No lies, no truth
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath says Modi is gifted with the timeless wisdom of Raja Kalasya Karnam—the king is responsible for the times—that Bheesma Pitamah had passed on to Yudhisthir.
In his eulogy to the PM on his 70th birthday in The Indian Express, Adityanath explained the message: “The ruler is never a slave of circumstances, but creates them by his acts.” Many in the Modi government seem to have got this message wrong: That they are not a slave of truth — at least, not of the whole truth, for sure.
Trinamool MP Sougata Roy sought to know from the government whether “our bilateral relations with neighbouring countries like Nepal, China, Bangladesh…has (sic) deteriorated recently.” “No” was an emphatic reply by the Modi government in the Lok Sabha last Wednesday.
It fitted in perfectly in philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt’s “Bullshit” theory. Frankfurt tells us that a liar is at least concerned with the truth because he is trying to hide it. A ‘bullshitter’ is just not bothered about the truth. It doesn’t matter to them whether what they say is right or wrong. When an opposition leader talks about a lack of transparency in PM CARES fund, the riposte from a minister is that there should be an investigation into how Jawaharlal Nehru had created PM National Relief Fund “for the Gandhi family.”
You cannot blame these ministers though. “Never tell a lie when you can bullshit your way through,” Jim Holt of The New Yorker, in a 2005 article, cited this advice from a father to his son in an Eric Ambler novel.
Let’s not blame any individual minister for speaking half-truths or half-lies in Parliament, the temple of democracy. People have no complaints. Prime Minister Modi’s popularity is soaring. Learn to accept the realities of post-truth politics, instead.
Views are personal.
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