One of television’s favourite characters, the curmudgeonly Dr Gregory House used to abhor visiting his patients and his reason was: “Everybody lies.” Dr House believed that people’s tendency to be economic with the truth, meant that there was no point interacting with patients to get a diagnosis.
It’s a cynical worldview, but one might find it terribly prescient given the state of the nation. While the POTUS – the ostensible leader of the free world – is also the world’s leading authority on spreading fake news, his friend PM Modi appears to have caught the bug.
For some time, spreading fake news was the preserve of anonymous trolls. It was used to malign opponents, vilify those of a certain religion and in general give the impression that all was wrong with the world.
Slowly, the spread of fake news became more mainstream.
Indians – who have believed WhatsApp forwards even before they existed (NASA has most desis employed; Sanskrit's best language for coding; Sun say Om) – are now subjected to fake news everywhere and are likelier to spot it than Rahul Gandhi can give a speech without errors.
From mainstream TV channels to party’s social media handles, everyone shares fake news with the ease with which Yogi Adityanath vilifies biryani.
While all parties are guilty of weaponizing fake news for political means, none have quite used the tactic like BJP.
A study found that while 18,000 Twitter accounts often spread ‘fake news for BJP’, the corresponding number for Congress was 147, showing that the grand old party is indeed not keeping up with the times.
In fact, BJP’s IT Cell chief Amit Malviya is at it every day.
From sharing pics of Nehru with his cousin to passing him off as a womaniser to sharing shoddily edited clips of Shaheen Bagh, spreading half-truths and making false innuendos appears to be his main day job.
Just two days ago, Malviya shared a picture as proof that ‘biryani was being served at Shaheen Bagh’, as if the consumption of food was a crime. For god’s sake, it was biryani, not curd rice.
Earlier, he shared a video which claimed to be proof that the Shaheen Bagh protest was ‘sponsored by Congress’. Alarmingly, this was covered by mainstream news channels who even had debates, taking the term straw man to another level.
An Alt-News and Newslaundry investigation also showed how Malviya shared a video claiming the Shaheen Bagh protest was ‘sponsored by Congress’.
It showed it was not just being economic with the truth, it was total bunkum.
As the report on the investigation noted: “This AltNews-Newslaundry investigation would have been unnecessary if the news outlets that carried this “sting” as news — and even conducted primetime debates on it — had done their own investigation in the matter. Here’s basically what happened: three people in a corner of Delhi made unproven claims about a protest eight kilometres away, one of them filmed it, the governing party spread it on social media, and channels like Times Now, Republic and India Today debated it on national television.” Meanwhile, Tajinder Bagga – who is an entire industry in himself when it comes to sharing fake news – was also given a ticket for the upcoming Delhi election. They are not the only ones. Several BJP MPs also speak in the same vein.
But can we really blame Bagga and Malviya, when the Prime Minister of the Country uses the most hallowed place in Indian democracy to use a fake quote to justify locking up leaders. We are talking about the Lok Sabha, the seat of democracy where the nation’s elected representatives are supposed to uphold the Indian Constitution.
The satirical article from 2014 states: ““We first came to know about this prophecy after one of my forefathers found a secret quote written on a piece of stone in a remote area of Kashmir, which read, ‘Three seventus removam, dhartis fatam, Kashmirus separatum‘. Back then, 370 was not even in existence,” claimed Omar Abdullah while addressing a press conference.”
Incidentally, Omar Abdullah had said: “Mark my words & save this tweet - long after Modi Govt is a distant memory either J&K won't be part of India or Art 370 will still exist.”However, there was no mention of an earthquake.
Yet on Thursday, during his speech which is ostensibly for ‘Motion of Thanks’ to the President’s address, which should honestly be called ‘Speech to malign Congress, Pakistan and Opposition’.
During the speech, PM Modi said: “Mehbooba Mufti said 'India has cheated Kashmir. It seems we picked the wrong side in 1947'. Omar Abdullah had said 'Removing Article 370 would bring an earthquake that will separate Kashmir from India'. Farooq Abdullah said 'if Article 370 is removed, there will be no one in the valley to unfurl the Indian flag'. Can any person devoted to the Indian constitution ever accept this?”
Denying the claim, NC’s Imran Dar had told NDTV: “Omar Abdullah made no such statement. "Every statement of Omar Abdullah is in the public domain and he has not made any such statement.”
The BJP – which was live tweeting the event – also quoted him saying it.
Incidentally, Omar Abdullah was booked under the draconian PSA after the speech.
In fact, it’s quite ironical that the Modi government is planning to fight ‘fake news’, even when the PM himself sees it fit to use the Temple of Democracy to spread fake news.
Knights, knaves and kings – liars united
There’s an old logical paradox called Knights and Knaves, often used to teach Boolean Algebra.
It imagines an island where everyone is a knight or knave. All knights tell the truth, and all knaves lie. Sadly, the PM proved that we are at that point in our democracy where it’s not just the knights and knaves, even the king is lying.
In fact, in 1906 – mass murderer and former British PM Winston Churchill came with an interesting circumlocution to call someone a liar.
Instead of calling someone a liar, Churchill used the term ‘terminlogical inexactitude’. It became common parlance in the UK’s House of Commons to accuse another member of lying, since calling someone a liar was ‘unparliamentary’.
I don’t think we need any sort of turn of phrase to describe what PM Modi did in Lok Sabha. He wasn’t being economic with the truth. There was no subtlety or moral compunctions as he happily quoted a satirical website to make a fake point to justify jailing democratically elected leaders for over six months.
We guess Dr House was right: “Everybody lies.” PM Modi just proved that.
Nirmalya Dutta is Web Editor of The Free Press Journal.
He tweets at @nirmalyadutta23.
The views expressed in this article are personal and are not necessarily endorsed by The Free Press Journal.