A bunch of people sat exchanging sighs when Santa came up to them. “Why are you sad?” he asked. “We don’t have jobs,” said one. “We don’t have food,” said another. “We don’t have a future for our children.” “We don’t have hospitals.” “We toil in the fields all day, yet we don’t get our dues.” The complaints went on.
Santa smiled. “Friends,” he said, “that’s because you have been cheated by the rich and the powerful, the corrupt have stolen your money and stashed it in foreign banks, they are denying you jobs, and healthcare and your dues. Outsiders are eyeing your wives and daughters, and stealing your children’s future. They are plotting with enemies across the border to kill you and your family. But ho ho ho! What have I got here, in my huge big sack? Yes! Solutions to all your problems! You will be safe. All of you will get jobs. Farmers will get their dues, and make big profits. The cheats will be chased away. Corruption will be finished off. You will have a good life — happy days are here!”
The grim bunch sat up. Their faces glowed. “Really, Santa?” they chirped gleefully. “Of course,” said Santa. “But you must do exactly what I say. Then I will give you `15 lakhs each!”
The grim bunch clapped in joy and carried Santa on their shoulders to their village head’s throne. Then threw themselves into abject misery by following every word of their new leader. Their money was taken away, their rations were denied by machines, they had even fewer jobs than before, farmers made bigger losses, every day became a bigger struggle, their sick continued to die without healthcare, and the future of their children remained bleak. Now there seemed to be outsiders everywhere, and everyone was terrified, there was no trust among friends or neighbours.
The grim became grimmer. “Santa?” they asked softly after some years, “it’s so much worse than before. And we haven’t got the Rs 15 lakhs that you promised either...” Santa frowned. “How old are you?” he asked. “I’m 22... I’m 35... 48... 53... 67... 85...” they replied. Santa laughed: “And you still believe in Santa?”
We are a nation of the gullible. We want to believe. Too lazy to use logic, too exhausted to think, we choose blind belief instead. We go with the flow, powered by mob mentality and guided by our biases.
So this is a country where even our leaders pay their respects to stone Ganeshas drinking milk. Where the police thunder down the streets of Delhi to capture the surreal helmeted Monkey Man with steel claws who swings by at night. Where frenzied pujas stave off the next monster, the Muhnochwa, who flies through the night sky with flashing lights, and swoops down to scratch your face with metal fingernails. Where a ghostly braid chopper leads the police on a merry dance as it flits through several states and creates serious security problems in Kashmir simply by creeping up on you and invisibly cutting off your hair.
While earlier such rumours didn’t lead to violence, now they do. With the media, especially the social media, egging us on, we kill in the name of imaginary fears. We use WhatsApp’s unbridled power to spread fake news and drum up violence against the weak and helpless.
This year, scores of surprised innocents have been lynched by neighbours or strangers empowered by these ridiculous rumours. And brazen video recordings of the killings drum up support for the killers, like it did for Shambhulal Regar, who hacked and burned to death Afrazul, a migrant labourer in Rajasthan, simply because he was Muslim. And the Hindutva goons who lynched Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer in Rajasthan, are protected by the police.
But this is not new. Rumours playing on our prejudices have been used to kill Muslims and dalits over the years, and engineer the 2002 Gujarat pogrom and the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots.
What is new is the overwhelming enthusiasm of secular people in believing ill of those they have no natural bias against. Last week, the trial court’s acquittal of all the accused in the 2G spectrum case shows how gullible we were in believing then Comptroller and Auditor-General Vinod Rai’s claim of a presumptive loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crores. The charge of colossal corruption helped turn the tide against the UPA government and brought the BJP to power, which richly rewarded Mr Rai.
Meanwhile, the country took a real hit as the telecom sector plunged, thousands lost their jobs and foreign companies withdrew, licking their losses. Not to mention the cultural change that the new regime brought in, attacking the very roots of our constitutional democracy.
This urge to believe the worst and go with the flow is particularly evident in the Congress’ shocking suspension of Mani Shankar Aiyar. While defending Jawaharlal Nehru’s contribution to India in response to the current PM’s scandalous slurs against the first PM, Mr Aiyar had said that Narendra Modi was a “neech kisam ka aadmi” who had no “sabhyata” — a lowly kind of character without civility.
Mr Modi snatched it up and built on it — claiming in his campaign for the Gujarat polls that Mr Aiyar had insulted him by saying he was from a “neech jaati”, or low caste, and thus had humiliated all low castes, even all of Gujarat. He then went on to say that Mr Aiyar had been conspiring against him with Pakistan.
Instead of taking on the PM’s fabrications, the witless Congress turned on its own. And in a vulgar genuflection to the Opposition’s deception and manufactured public perception, it first asked Mr Aiyar to apologise, and when he did, suspended him from the party. Ironically, the lead was taken by Rahul Gandhi, whose family Mr Aiyar has been fiercely loyal to. Then they conveniently blamed Mr Aiyar for the Congress’ loss in Gujarat. They should have actually congratulated themselves for helping the BJP to win on a false premise.
Abandoning logic and facts to kneel at the altar of fake news can destroy us. We have come a long way down that lazy path. Hopefully next year, we will get our senses back. And remember that we are all grown up and don’t need Santas. Happy 2018!