Modi's main achievement: covering up failures and mediocrity with propaganda
What has been the greatest hallmark of the Narendra Modi government three years into its tenure? Evaluating work done, policies framed and projects initiated is one way of looking at it. What is the overarching narrative? What is the feeling that one gets looking at major developments that rocked our daily life in these three years?
The horrid gau-rakshaks and the inherent anti-Muslim agenda, the scary caste-wars and the organised attempt to silence lower castes, the shocking arrogance of the note-ban, the sheer irresponsibility of the public display of military strikes, the brazen defence of army excesses, the sabotage of institutions of the State, the silencing of all kinds of dissent – it is hard to choose which is more worrisome.
And yet, Modi moves on – from one electoral victory to another and consequently, from one celebration to another. To what does he owe his constant movement from one milestone to another? How does he ensure a steady supply of support and following from peers and public alike? In the answer to this question lies the secret of Modi's project.
Look at the statistics behind the celebrations planned for his government's 3rd anniversary – 20 days, 900 venues, 2 crore letters, 10 crore text messages. The idea is to bombard people with only one message. Propaganda is the pivot of Modi's strategy.
It involves use of multiple modes of communication to give out only one side of the story and amplify it so much that it completely drowns out any counter narrative. So you have Doordarshan and All India Radio telling you that the government is doing phenomenal work on all fronts, which is only repeated by the big private media controlled by corporates funding the ruling party. Then you have the communicator in chief, the prime minister himself, using social media to say the same thing to millions of his followers.
Wherever there is shortage of scope for this brand of communication, there is ample space to be directly purchased by the government through advertisements. So you have the entire country waking up to the same full-page government message splashed across the front pages of newspapers delivered on every doorstep.
It is irrelevant that the content is fluff. What matters is that it is one newspaper-page full of writing that screams “Ho Raha Vikas Hai” (Development is happening). It helps that the accompanying image is of Modi himself being followed by a crowd out on the streets. In smaller font but still readable from a distance are sub-heads that assert “Bold and Decisive”, “Empowering the Poor, “Honest & Incorruptible”, “A Government that Cares”.
Modi knows that not too many will bother to read the text in even smaller font. The text that simply presents the government's own assertions about its success and which also tries to pass off mere announcements as accomplishments. It is also a text that carries no mention of the strife that is fast taking over the entire country at an alarming rate.
On the same day, Modi has also brilliantly used an office constitutionally higher than his for his own propaganda. The Rashtrapati Bhavan witnessed the release of two propaganda books, both focussing on Modi and the work done by him in these three years. One is a collection of all his speeches delivered during his Mann Ki Baat programme on All India Radio. The other is an analysis of his government's work by a journalist close to him.
In a short while from now, two books will be launched : 'Mann Ki Baat: A Social Revolution on Radio' and 'Marching With A Billion Dreams'. pic.twitter.com/nNypQ4DcYv— PMO India (@PMOIndia) May 26, 2017
The famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell had raised a key question in one of his essays, 'The Conquest of Happiness'. Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling, he asked. The reason is clearly that the human heart as modern civilisation has made it is more prone to hatred than to friendship, he explains.
Under Modi, Russell's interpretation of the success of propaganda is coming alive. While Modi appeals to the sense of dissatisfaction in the middle class and solidifies his position as their unquestioned leader, the RSS and affiliated outfits sow the seeds of hatred on the streets. The propaganda then feeds on this hatred, enlarging his image further and strengthening his ideology's grip on the country.
As the third year of the playing out of this game passes by, it is getting more sinister. No one can say for sure when will it stop or even suffer a decline. The forthcoming presidential polls is only likely to make it worse, unless the Opposition can conjure up a rabbit from out of its hat.