Propaganda and the manipulation of public opinion

Propaganda and the manipulation of public opinion

What has been ignored by the public at large is how effectively and creatively the BJP and affiliated organisations have used propaganda as a weapon to capture the mindspace of the people to create an authoritarian society

AshutoshUpdated: Monday, March 27, 2023, 11:26 PM IST
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Representative Image | Pixabay

The accusation that Rahul Gandhi had insulted the OBC community by his statement about the name Modi in a public rally in Karnataka, for which he has been convicted and disqualified as an MP, is pure propaganda for the manipulation of public opinion. Rahul Gandhi has been found guilty of defaming the community with the surname Modi by the court but to call it an insult to OBC is stretching the truth. Not everyone using the Modi surname is an OBC. In fact except Narendra Modi the other two names, Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi, which were taken by Rahul Gandhi don’t belong to the OBC. A few famous people with Modi surname, like Russi Modi and Piloo Modi, are not even Hindu but Parsi.

In politics perception is very important; creation of perception about oneself and about opponents is considered to be a legitimate tool in the exercise to capture power — and every party does it. Therefore if the BJP is using the “OBC” phrase to neutralise the Congress’s effort to gain sympathy for being victimised by the Modi regime is understandable; but what has been ignored by the public at large is how effectively and creatively the BJP and affiliated organisations have used propaganda as a weapon to capture the mindspace of the people to create an authoritarian society. This has been so effective that even the harshest critics of the government and its ideology, have also started speaking the language which the regime wants them to speak. Many left-liberal intellectuals are victims of this phenomena and unknowingly, not only enhance the regime’s narrative but also strengthen the grip of the government over the large section of the society.

These left-liberal intellectuals have forgotten that the propaganda as a political tool is as old as the birth of the state. It was used by the kings and emperors in antiquity and also in modern times. Normally it is understood that propaganda is a very potent weapon during war to demoralise the enemy, create confusion in the opponent camp, and to boost the morale of its own people and soldiers. It is also assumed that the art of propaganda has a very limited role during peacetime. There is consensus among experts that since the demise of the many Communist regimes and totalitarian societies, the use of propaganda has lessened considerably. Nicholas Jackson O’Shaughnessy in his book says: “but with the increasing global spread of capitalism and liberal democracy the term ‘propaganda’ faced conceptual extinction because it has become an anachronism”. It is argued that the existence of the mass media in liberal democratic societies helps ‘we the people’ believe that it is next to impossible to brainwash the people on such a mass scale. But against this perception Damien Spray argues, “Misleading propaganda and political lies are nothing new but aspects of social media make it a devilish, potent array of weaponised forms of information used to cajole, harass, hoodwink and otherwise exploit publics.”

Social media platforms have created huge globalised-interconnected-virtual-societies. The tools of instant dissemination of information/misinformation/fake news have the capacity to influence this sea of humanity, in no time. They have become the new factory for mass production of propaganda at the gigantic level. This is such a low cost operation that an individual while sitting in a room, at the remotest place, with a smart phone and access to internet can create riots and generate violence without being noticed. Tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and Whatsapp etc have become more powerful than governments. They have the capability to destabilise governments, create disharmony and strife between social groups, demonise communities and individuals for political gains and otherwise, and dehumanise societies. They can create wars.

This is possible because as Spray says, “We all are vulnerable to all forms of psychological manipulations.” This is happening in our daily lives. We form opinions about products, individuals, groups, organisations, communities, leaders, political parties and governments without verifying processed facts presented to us in attractive packages in a disguised manner. A fictional world is engineered in our minds where myths, legends and demons fight with each other; battles are won and lost, paranoia overwhelms our inner self and we become neurotic. Without realising we become slaves and behave the way the owner of information/misinformation/fake news wants us to behave. We are victims of communication age in which our soul has been mortgaged and we are not even aware.

This is a global phenomenon and India is not untouched too. The BJP and the RSS have always been much ahead than others in using technology to gain access to people. Even during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time telephones and SMSs were used at a massive level to reach out to potential voters. From 2014, since Modi became the prime minister, the use of communication technology has been taken to a different level, it has become so pervasive and omnipresent that it has turned into a fine art. Huge amounts of human resources and money is spent. It is done at two levels. One to package Modi as a divine individual who is destined to make India a world leader and the other is to demonise his opponents as being anti-national, anti-progress, self-centred and corrupt.

Since the Congress nationally is the main opponent, so it, and its leader are targeted the maximum.

It is no coincidence that as far as the BJP is concerned, as Nalin Mehta writes in his book ‘The New BJP’ - “... mentions of the congress in the BJP’s official communication increased by 82.6% between 2014 to 2019.” In 2019 Congress topped the chart in BJP’s communication materials. It figured more than Modi and the BJP in its press releases, speeches and articles. It was not done to praise the Congress but to create a negative image about the party and its leaders and it worked too. Congress is/was blamed for everything which is/was wrong with the country from dynasty to democracy to development. And it is/was projected that Modi is/was involved in a Herculean task to take India out of the Congress-created mess. As a citizen we all have consumed this narrative through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube and other social media platforms. The mainstream TV channels and newspapers have been tamed to the effect that they hardly find faults with the government, and are busy in lambasting the Opposition.

The propaganda was so effective that Rahul Gandhi became Pappu. Even left-liberal intellectuals also believed so till they realised their mistake when Rahul Gandhi embarked on the Bharat Jodo Yatra. To the detriment of the Congress and other Opposition parties except AAP, they fell much behind the communication and propaganda curve. By the time they realised it, it was too late. The damage had been done. Today a very strong community has come into existence that believes that Modi can do no wrong and that the Opposition is full of sins. It is this mindset which is dangerous for the country because this obstructs rational thinking and suspends critical evaluation of the regime and its leader; it only helps to create an authoritarian society.

The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B

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