Propaganda that transforms normal people into killing machines operates on most primal fears and insecurities of human minds.
“No citizen can take the law into their own hands. In case of fear and anarchy, the State has to act positively. Violence can’t be allowed”, the Supreme Court observed last week as it delivered judgment on a batch of petitions against the rising incidents of mob violence and lynchings across the country. “Horrendous acts of mobocracy... cannot be permitted to be the new normal way of life,” it said. What should have been a natural assumption in a democracy with the rule of law had to be specifically spelt out as an observation by the nation’s highest court — that is a matter of concern in itself.The past four years have witnessed a rising number of mob killings on basis of rumours of beef-eating and cow slaughter by bloodthristy mobs led by vigilante groups. The victims were mostly Muslims and dalits. Going by a newspaper report earlier this month, there had been 27 deaths due to mob lynching across 14 states in the past two months. The growing intolerance and polarisation of society that threatens to tear apart the social and moral fabric of the nation is finding an outlet through the monster of mob violence, which is being supported by the ideology, attitude and the actions of the ruling party’s members. Harvard-educated Union minister Jayant Sinha met and garlanded the Ramgarh lynching convicts. Another Union minister, Mahesh Sharma, paid homage to the tricolour-wrapped body of one of the accused in the infamous Dadri lynching. The official spokesmen of the ruling party go hoarse indulging in “whatabouteries” and the troll gang on the social media openly rejoice over attacks and murders of those voicing divergent views that opposes the narrative of hate and venom spewed by supporters and ideologues of the party in power. As noted by the Supreme Court, mob lynchings are not just law and order problems. A frenzied atmosphere of hate and fear is perhaps being deliberately nurtured to create faultlines within society that justifies annihilation of those “others” who differ. Ultra-right-wing ideologies must have an “enemy” to target. Its core foundation is based on a percieved and hateful difference between “us” and “them”.
The RSS’ “Hindutva” is not a religion. It’s a far cry from the inclusive philosophy of Hinduism. “Hindutva”, on the other hand, is a monolithic cult that’s an antithesis of the pluralistic inclusive worldview, and it thrives on the division and distincion between “us” and “them”. Whether these enemies are the minorities, or the “libtards” who dare to oppose, such cults need a series of “enemies” to be relevant as their ideological mooring is sustained by the percieved inferiority and/or malevolence of the different “others”. It’s a religio-psychological phenomenon that is being propagated by the relentless propaganda of how the “majorities” are being threatened, how their collective existence are in peril by the growth in population of a particular minority community, how anyone outside the “Hindutva” cult is not a true Hindu; and how the current atrocities against minorities are a retribution for real or mythical injustices inflicted on the Hindus by “foreign invaders” centuries ago. Whereas its internal mechanism is highly regimented and organised with no scope of dissent, it flourishes in a deliberately-created environment of chaos, confusion, hatred and fear. Such an environment is created through a vicious but extremely efficient machinery for mass propaganda. A large section of the mainstream media behaves like the ruling party’s official mouthpiece. “Fake news” and photoshopped images go viral on the social media. Forged videos and false stories are circulated on WhatsApp with a view to instigating riots. In a charged atmosphere, rumours are deliberately spread and acted upon to create communal disturbances. In this delirium of mass hysteria, “rationality” is entirely lost and the power of independent thinking is the biggest casualty. Albert Speer, one of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler’s closest aides, stated during the postwar Nuremberg war crimes trials that “what distinguished the Third Reich from all previous dictatorships was its use of all the means of communication to sustain itself and to deprive its objects of the power of independent thought”. Fascist Germany used violence and propaganda as an integrated phenomenon. Lies were a permissable methodology to convince people of their worldview, in which the existence of “us” was threatened by “them” — the enemy. Extreme violence was seen to be essential for establishing the supremacy of their race, even at the cost of annihilation of others as the end justified the means. Through the selling of a dream of German greatness along with providing justification for the elimination of all adversaries, the Nazis managed to control the mass psychology of the people of those times as never before. Historian and psychologist Jay Y. Gonen cites the theory of “group narcissism” as one of the most important elements of mob aggression: “In a world that is seen through a narcissistic tunnel vision, only oneself or one’s group has any rights”.
Propaganda that transforms normal people into killing machines operates on most primal fears and insecurities of human minds. In a situation like today’s India, with jobless growth, massive unemployment, farmers in distress, collapsing small and medium-scale enterprises, and a vast population of young people facing an uncertain future, there are some of the key factors which create fears and uncertainties, anger and frustration. This fear and insecurity is being cleverly diverted by an well-oiled machinery to turn anger and frustration to victims percieved as “enemies” and shift the focus away from the real problems of the day.
Coming back to the Supreme Court’s observations, the court said the “the rising intolerance and growing polarisation expressed through a spate of incidents of mob violence cannot be permitted to become the normal way of life or the normal state of law and order in the country”.
In view of the dominant discourse of the ruling party's supporters to dismiss people, including the “award wapasi gang”, who voiced concern over the rising intolerance and polarisation of society as anti-nationals, one wonders if they will also call the nation’s highest court “anti-national” as well!
The writer is chief spokesperson of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee and an AICC national media panelist