The problem with being a propagandist is that you have to often give up on logic to make sure you are not ceding ground to the other side. It is, in fact, an interesting psychological phenomenon: how people, seemingly smart and well read, are so comfortable sounding exceedingly daft just to prove that they believe in a certain ideology. This, according to me, is the basic fallacy of being too strongly wedded to an ideology – and the very reason why the modern world is moving towards a post-ideological space.
Consider the SoulVultures hashtag that trended on Twitter, following the Nepal earthquake. The hashtag was in response to Christian missionaries reportedly (on social media) carrying out a mass proselytisation drive in the wake of the disaster.
While there are no ground reports or first-hand accounts to suggest that something like that is indeed taking place, a Right-Wing website, OpIndia (which claims with hilarious audacity that it “applies some thought process” before publishing content), in an attempt to ride the trend and spread paranoia while the tragedy lasted, published an article on it. The article, with a brilliant search engine optimised headline, “When Nepal was groaning in earthquake, Christian Missionaries were shamelessly selling Jesus”, put out tweets and Facebook posts by people who appear to be a bunch of loons in some godforsaken town in Midwest America as proof to support its claim. So does that mean that it never appeared to the OpIndia, which is run by “various professionals with analytical skills and political bent of mind”, that its analysis was as convoluted as a jalebi? Of course, not. But who gives a jalebi when you can fulfil your higher purpose of serving propaganda.
Columnist Sandeep Balakrishna, who believes “one of the standard tactics of the Left-liberal-secularist method of argumentation [is to] dismiss all evidence, deny agency, and call the person ignorant”, and cutely calls Ramchandra Guha the “Irascible Rebel against Commonsense and Facts” (sic), tweeted this:
He was, not surprisingly, called out for his laughable puerility (by even Right-Wing commentators). Balakrishna, though, held his ground firmly. Again, was Balakrishna, who obviously is more than aware that earthquakes are tectonic occurrences and not a result of a particularly wild fit of Shiva’s rage, oblivious to the fact that he was being an “irascible rebel against commonsense and facts”? Not at all. Balakrishna understands very well that propaganda, particularly on Twitter, need not be backed by rationale – and the best time to push it is when there is already a favourable ecosystem (in this case a Twitter trend) in place. The most conducive time to promote a mosquito net brand is after all when there is a dengue outbreak.
Another inevitable requirement in being an effective propagandist is the ability to shift goalposts.
Exhibit: These tweets by columnist Rupa Subramanya, which attempt at passively defending Balakrishna.
“Which was a better band: Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin?”
“Floyd was active for a longer period.”
“Umm, they were, but your point?”
But that is precisely the point. When you are serving propaganda, you can conveniently fall back on completely unrelated semantics. And since you are pandering to a set of unquestioning followers who want to hear nothing other than what they believe in, you can get away by talking about the Gujarat government’s unparalleled conservation efforts in Gir in a discussion on saving tigers in India (and even get applauded for it).
What is worrisome, though, is the amount of influence these anti-“soul vultures” wield over people. The Twitter users that OpIndia quotes in its story hardly have any significant following – and come across more as fringe elements desperate for any kind of attention than part of any organised proselytisation group. On the other hand though, OpIndia, Balakrishna and Subramanya – and this is nowhere near an exhaustive list of influential Twitteratis who have communalised the tragedy – represent anything but the fringe. They have (unfortunately) come to represent the mainstream Indian Right. RIP, Rajaji.
Milking a tragedy for personal gains is perhaps more tragic than the original tragedy itself. But the Indian Right Wing, which is perhaps the largest majority group in the world to be so insecure, is on war mode. And, clearly, in its fight to reclaim (imaginary) lost ground, everything is fair.