Jumlanomics:Chronicles of a Post-Truth Bharat
"The Oxford Dictionaries define "post-truth" as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts
are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and
personal belief." - Lee McIntyre, Post-Truth
The BJP government will soon
complete its five-year tenure at the centre and by this time, we the citizens
of India have come across a lot of jumla from the PM and his party. The Right
has created an environment of post-truth in Indian politics, and historicity
has taken a back seat with overzealous bhakts running the show.
Jumla is a colloquial Hindi-Urdu
word that became popular in social media almost four years back when Amit Shah
made a comment about Modi's
assurance to the people of India about retrieving "black money" and crediting the bank account of every Indian citizen with 15 lakh rupees.
This offer that Modi made was a political
jumla according to Amit Shah: an obviously exaggerated statement made
during the election campaign. If we look at all the pre-election promises of
the PM and the BJP, they have all turned out to be jumlas or empty promises.
Such techniques use a form of
commentary or narrative that twists facts, or present 'alternative facts' as
the Trump-led Republicans in America term them, and are the essence of a
post-truth world. A "normal" citizen or state subject becomes victim to these
manufactured and construed versions of facts, which gradually make their way to
our routine life-world through emotional manipulations performed by the media.
The post-truth condition is established when such news becomes the norm of a
Historically too there were
plural and often dichotomous belief systems fighting one another to seize
control of economy, polity or society in India, and besides outright violence a
reason for Brahminism's success has been that its proponents could design the
most efficient jumla of all. Brahminism never aimed to topple or destroy the
existing structures, rather it manipulated them, building upon the existing
system, adorning it with its discriminatory ideology topped by its most
virulent feature, the man's right to power through Divine Law.
The "Brahmin" being the mouthpiece
of God "himself" ordained himself using pseudo-spiritual jumlas, and suppressed
the systems that contested it through violence and administrative-level
trickery. How was this possible? "The media represents a world
that is more real than the reality that we can experience. People lose the
ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. They also begin to engage
with the fantasy without realizing what it really is. They seek happiness and
fulfilment through the simulacra of reality, e.g. media, and avoid
contact/interaction with the real world." - Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and
In the past, it was the divine
scriptures that simulated their cultural authority and today it's the digital
medium that's simulating the authority of jumlas. The only difference being
that ordinary people back then never could fully understand the nature of these
practices that was controlling their lives, categorising them into models of
purity and impurity. Today, we are in a state of constant awareness - if not
complete - of these models of control, but this awareness itself is pacified by
the conflict of binary relations.
Our nation has become one big Disneyland
of simulations. All sorts of violence, be it in the name of food, religious
beliefs, caste tensions, corruption charges, farmer suicides, nationhood etc.
have become so normalised and intermixed within the post-truth environment of
the media and so-called social networks, that we have immersed ourselves in the
recumbent consumption of anarchy and disorder. The order of things manifests
itself through simplistic and binary forms of narrative, with the centralised
power structure weaving more jumlas around us, so that we get entangled,
confused and dazed like prey caught in the web - pun intended.
In this digital age, we are made
to believe that our present reality is full of political binaries based on
religious extremism and administrative incapability on one end, and the
masculinist phantasm of the religious sacrosanct and cultural puritanism propagated
through Hindutva on the other. What we really ought to understand is that
Hindutva is a political ideology that leeches our rational judgment through
provocation. It can only exist by creating a binary, a system that has to have
opposing qualities from that of a radical Hindutva disposition.
This vagrancy of rational
reasoning is the product of an ideology created under the tenets of fear: the
fear of losing a cultural, political vantage point in Independent India.
The internet has in a way
fostered these preconceived notions, of taking sides within what is given to us
by a hegemonic (fully accepted) structure. If one chooses not to be part of
this, one is branded with various labels like neo-liberal, apolitical etc. We
are failing to listen to others - often labelling them ourselves - and are more
concerned about how our opinions are received and appreciated or countered by
Lately, Modi faced a lot of flak
and even became the first prime minister in the history of Indian politics not
to hold even a single press conference. At the same time, inside the media
industry there are pro-Modi factions who design news and narratives that try to
boost Modi's putative charisma.
This is a classic example of how
our media construe narratives that defy the rationalisation of a political and
historical continuum, in order to mould an individual or communal personality
We are faced with two options
here: either to believe or to ridicule these narratives. But both work towards
garnering popularity for the prime minister and his right-wing government (to
use another binary).
What we fail to realise is, this
idea of good and evil is no longer relevant in the post-truth world. We are all
living in a world that doesn't care about any absolutes, does not allow us to
engage with the question of an absolute good or bad, but thrives instead by
creating the conflict in us to choose a side.
The most recent and last nail to
the coffin was the Pulwama terror attacks and the events that transpired
afterwards. The news-entertainment channels had a field day, with augmented
reality representations of the Pulwama attack and the supposed counter-attack
in Balakot. (Though not Pakistan's retaliation in Nowshera.) As viewers or as
citizens, we were trapped in this conspicuous consumption of information
floating through various propaganda narratives. There were reporters raging
through the media, ending up most of the time as warmongering
hypernationalists, though they claim and are supposed to represent a critical
view of such sensitive issues.
We are all caught up in this
giant jumla, a world of empty promises and blown up achievements that is
destroying the intellectual and critical prowess of a nation - of many nations.
When the prime minister with his oratory skills blazes ahead with his 'pakoda
lecture', citizens throw verbal slurs at each other through social networks and
channel discussions trying to prove or disprove the rationality of the comments
made by the PM.
Meanwhile, the administrative
transgressions happen underneath this furore of words. Deals are made,
businessmen commit frauds, politicians enact their puppet roles, mystery mobs
lynch people, and the world keeps spinning in an endless abyss of power's lies.
None of this is to say that
governments before this one were righteous, morally driven systems of
administration. It simply means that the Right has very decisively crossed a
line of pragmatic politics that somewhere had a resonance of social transformation
and progressiveness. On the way they just made sure that we all remain in this
dark cave that Plato feared humanity would get stuck in - staring at shadows,
or the shadows of shadows - and the irony is that we are only too happy to be
stuck here, contemplating the next Facebook status to be put up on the wall!
The author is a PhD
scholar at Pondicherry University.