An army of trolls threatens to overrun our republic. It has already degraded our public debates, poisoned our social conversations and imperiled India’s nationhood. It is well on its way to setting up an empire of deceit. This is a threat to our civilisation, no less.
It is time to call its bluff. It is time to stop cribbing about the trolls and set up a resistance. It is time to create a Truth Army.
This is not just a wish. Here is a concrete proposal. Let all the defenders of the republic continue with our political differences and rivalries, but let us come together for this one purpose, namely debunking the lies spewed by the political establishment, its courtiers and the entire eco-system that surrounds it. Let us set up a common facility, a think tank or team to work out a smart communicative strategy. Let us bring together some of the best creative minds in India to convert the agreed strategy into powerful messages. Let us set up an effective machine for dissemination of those messages through multiple channels and platforms. Finally, let us create a network of millions of volunteers to ensure last-mile connectivity, so that the truth travels to ordinary people in their language and idiom.
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Beyond just facts
Truth must go beyond fact-checking. While a lot of debunking of lies is about getting data and facts correct, much of the troll army is immunised against facts and data. We must find ways to bring out experiential truth – things that people have experienced themselves. It is easier to lie about general and remote matters, not about things that people experience first-hand. While it may be hard to nail the Narendra Modi government’s obfuscation on territories ceded in Ladakh, debunking claims on employment generation or falsehood on the number of those who died due to Covid mismanagement is all about bringing out personal experience to a general level.
It is not enough to establish facts; these facts must be strung together into relatable stories that offer a perspective. The hyperbole around the so-called threat to the Prime Minister’s life in Ferozepur was punctured by the videos next day, but it is not until you connect it to the larger story of pre-poll incidents that go back to Akshardham attack before the 2002 elections that you begin to see a pattern.
We must learn to connect not just with empirical truth but also emotional truth. Sulli Deals or Bulli Bai app goes beyond criminality; it is a deep emotional tragedy for the victims as well as the perpetrator. Truth telling is about uncovering the human face in this pathology and making everyone feel what it would mean if their daughter was targeted, if their son was involved in this.
So, multiple other forms of truth must supplement empirical truth: experiential truth, emotional truth and explanatory truth.
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A doctrine of truth
Like any army, the Truth Army would need a strategic doctrine. It must, of course, remain committed to truth as a principle as well as its most potent strategy. It must have the courage to speak the truth even when it is inconvenient, even if it does not favour us. It must be open to independent public scrutiny of its truth claims, vetted by public ombudspersons. The troll army invites us into Hindu-Muslim issues every day, so as to keep the pot boiling no matter what our response. The strategic challenge here is to shift the battle to arenas that would force the trolls into a defensive battle. The trolls and their masters are largely unconcerned about any content in text format and in English language. The Truth Army must speak the powerful language of visuals. It must not only generate content in Indian languages, but also speak in the idiom of the people. It must deploy humour, comedy and satire as effective weapons to debunk the web of lies.
Do we have space for politics of truth in this supposedly post-truth universe, surrounded by blind followers? I believe we do. We just have to look at the propaganda of the trolls to realise the value of truth. Remember the media-aided lies about Lakhimpur Kheri? It drew upon facts and the video of the vehicle mowing down farmers to put the trolls on defensive. Just notice how hard the government tries to twist facts and suppress inconvenient data. It does so because truth matters. The emotional truth of the farmers out there on the street managed to put the Modi government on the back foot for well over a year.
Also read: One more death in Lakhimpur Kheri shouldn’t go unnoticed — Indian media credibility
An army of volunteers
Where would the Truth Army be recruited? Do we have seekers for truth? Indeed we do. Just check the number of social media followers of Ravish Kumar. The abject surrender by the big media houses has spawned small YouTube channels in every state and district. They have huge followings. On things that matter to them, people still want the truth. The farmers’ movement is proof that there is an army of volunteers waiting to be recruited in the cause of truth.
Why call it an army? The militarist tone worries some peace-loving friends. They just need to remember that Gandhi himself formed the Shanti Sena to combat communal violence. The fact is that we are at war, a war to save our nation and civilisation. And you need an army to fight this holy war.
P.S. Professor GN Devy had a different suggestion: it should be called the “Troth Army”, drawing upon an older, archaic expression. I had to look up the dictionary. Troth is an oath, promise, or pledge. Perhaps in this 75th year of our independence we need a Troth Army to keep our collective tryst with destiny.
Yogendra Yadav is among the founder of Jai Kisan Andolan and Swaraj India. Views are personal.