By Dr. S.Saraswathi
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched an attack on “international conspirators” who were out to discredit India by joining the propaganda against Farm Laws in support of the protesters. Replying to the debate on the President’s address in Parliament, he referred to Foreign Destructive Ideology (his new expansion of FDI) from which the country must be saved and spoke about Andolan Jeevi (professional protesters) who were ready to join any protest.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah has tweeted, “No propaganda can deter India’s unity…Propaganda cannot decide India’s fate, only progress can. India stands united and together to achieve progress”. The Government is now forcibly drawn to fight a war against adverse propaganda – a situation developing in recent years and which has become rather serious ever since the BJP came to power at the Centre with majority on its own.
A strong suspicion is spreading in the country over global conspiracy to malign India, this time over the farmers’ protest. A BJP MP gave notice to Lok Sabha Speaker seeking a short-term discussion after the “toolkit” episode involving climate change teenage activist, Greta Thunberg tweeted in support of protesting farmers.
Several international environmental activists joined the tweet-plan to express solidarity with protesting Indian farmers. Some Western celebrities have circulated comments in support of the agitation which are dismissed by the MEA as “neither accurate, nor responsible” with an advice that facts must be ascertained and a proper understanding of the issues must be undertaken before rushing to comment on issues. It is clear that comments are part of propaganda warfare which has no code of conduct or rules of the game.
It is reported in the media that the Special Delhi Police Commissioner said that the intention of the creators of the toolkit seems to be “to create disharmony among various social, religious, and cultural groups and encourage disaffection and ill-will against the Government of India” and the aim is to wage “social, cultural, and economic war against India”.
Twitter has been asked by the government to follow its order and remove “inflammatory content” on farmers’ protest or face jail term and financial penalty. It referred to 257 accounts that had the hashtag #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide. Internet suspension was imposed in border areas where farmer groups assembled after 26 January rally.
The art of propaganda was known since ancient times. It is dealt with in detail in Chanakya’s Arthashastra. Use of misinformation and rumours about the enemy is considered a powerful weapon to demoralise the enemy’s army. Extensive use of propaganda is common in religious activities for increasing strength by number and/or faith. The material used is not questioned for its veracity, but accepted as a matter of faith.
Modern propaganda techniques have come in extensive use in many countries including India aided by social media platforms. They have grown as powerful weapon for “peacetime” warfare to such an extent as to tarnish the image of opponents and effectively play divisive politics in many countries.
Delhi Police is reported to be monitoring many social media handles pushing hateful, malicious contents in connection with the farmers’ agitation. It will investigate whether an international conspiracy to defame the country is working. Tracking false propaganda is an additional area of investigation for the police.
Chief Justice of India, Sharad A. Bobde, while hearing a batch of petitions regarding Tablighi Jamat congregation held during the peak COVID -19 period said that there are broadcasts and programmes that definitely have the effect of instigating people not just against one community, but any community. The Supreme Court expressed a strong view that “control over certain kind of news which agitate people to violence and riots is a law and order problem. Preventing it is as powerful as putting up barricades. Preventing instigation is as important as providing lathis to policemen”.
Riot is like an epidemic that must be fought before it occurs. Lies and rumours are its food for growth and potent weapons to disrupt peace and order. Propaganda politics helps to sharpen these instruments.
The Supreme Court, the chief protector of rights and freedoms, has to be equally concerned about the damage that false propaganda, inflammatory speeches, and instigation to violence can cause to destroy law and order in a society.
Propaganda in politics is selective use of information for political effect. It is necessarily biased as its purpose is to influence feelings and actions. Appeal to emotional reaction rather than rational response being the intention, propaganda invariably clothed in exaggerations, whether in words or in forms, may offer promises, create fear, divide people, build false images, and discredit others.
Encyclopedia Britannica defines propaganda as dissemination of information – facts, arguments, rumours, half-truths or lies – to influence public opinion. Pre-planning or relatively heavy emphasis on manipulation distinguishes propaganda from ordinary conversation or free and easy exchange of ideas. The Encyclopedia further explains that the “propagandist deliberately selects facts, arguments, and symbols and introduces them to achieve the greatest effect. To maximize effect, he may miss essential facts or distort them and may try to divert the audience’s attention from other sources of information”.
Propaganda politics is at its peak in India today as a major tool of political parties to win popularity and defame opponents, and succeed in political manipulations. Parties do not hesitate to do destructive propaganda in the belief that anything is fair in politics and the end justifies the means. IT cells in political parties are working in full swing preparing and disseminating propaganda material. Information Technology Act 2000 contains some provisions to prohibit misinformation, but laws are not enough.
Repetition of slogans, calling names and twisting facts are some common tactics in propaganda. It may appeal to traditions also, make references or quote out of context, and build artificial images of persons and issues. Propagandists generally do not bother about contradicting themselves or changing their positions. They aim at immediate advantage.
The word “propaganda” immediately raises memories of Adolf Hitler and his Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda under Joseph Goebbels. Successful propaganda was the foundation of his rise to power. It is powerful in psychological warfare and it usually starts as misinformation. It can cause social destruction besides physical. Usually associated with bad intentions, propaganda can affect thoughts, emotions, and actions of the receivers.
Today, almost everybody is exposed to propaganda hidden in news, and reports. It has grown to such an extent that very soon we will stop believing even truth coming through social media. Its techniques are akin to those used in advertisements and public relations.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits any propaganda for war or any advocacy of national or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence by law.
Fake news and propaganda have some similarities, but have differences also. The former is falsehood, but the latter may contain some truth presented in exaggerated or distorted form with the purpose of winning friends.
People across the world are now facing the problem of distinguishing truth and propaganda. “Beware of propaganda, and seek truth” should be our slogan today. — INFA