One early morning last week, on the way to the airport, I received this shared message on my mobile phone that read:
‘The Bihar results came out on 8 November. Today is 21 November. In the two weeks, not one award has been returned, there has been no controversy over any religious commitments, no talks about beef or any other kind of meat anymore. No one is rioting, no one is screaming intolerance, and there is peace in India. We are now discussing pay commissions and other routine stuff. Just sit back and think how the media and Congress manipulated the minds of the nation in the run up to the elections over those six weeks. Good to see that India has once again magically become tolerant and secular."
While this might be a bit too clever and the sudden absence of hostility in the air could well be due to public indifference or exhaustion with the subjects (after all, look how the reaction to the arrest of Peter Mukherjea pales in comparison that of Indrani, his wife) the thought that mass communications can be used as a mechanism to create an atmosphere for or against an individual, an institution or even an event, will not disappear.
Yes, it’s not just WhatsApp chatter. That thought did come to my mind, even before that viral message. It must have crossed your mind, too. Where is the intolerance debate? We did hear Aamir Khan refer to it on Monday, but he hardly made a ripple on the electronic waves. (Ed--This article was first published early morning on November 24. Subsequently, through the day, Aamir did rule the waves). He said that at the peak of the intolerance debate his wife Kiran asked him if they should leave India, suggesting that we are good again as a country.
Simple as that?
In a chapter by American journalist John Perry on the power of ‘Masscomm’ to generate and feed a mob mentality, the possibility of this mobile message being a reality finds some credence... or at least, a pause for thought.
He writes of an American election in which the two-party system’s candidates are manufactured out of cardboard and smoke and mirrors and sculpted by the media. The gap between what they are and what is projected is made irrelevant.
“Newspaper chains, the clutter of segmented magazines, motion picture studios, television channels, even the cacophony of music and radio and TV anchors, the innumerable channels, the Internet providers, the smart phones, the endless inescapable presence of news and opinion outlets, including social media of every imaginable stripe and stain.... they make for a massive machine to brainwash the human mind. Masscomm gives any innovation the green signal or junks it. It promotes harmony or encourages backdoor rage and suspicion. It determines who will win and who will lose… In the age of Masscomm, the new President of the United States will be ‘printed’ out by Masscom, he will be an unreal alien whose persona will be totally scripted."
Not possible? Why not? As technology advances thought becomes submissive and subjugated. Add to the social media platforms the froth and boil brought to an issue by the thousands of trolls who use the veneer of anonymity to foment rage, fury and venom with so much dedication that they add to the image or detract from it.
If enough trolls are put on the job to create a mural and throw upon it lashings of vividly poisonous colour, you will end up with a canvas in prejudice.
So, let’s take the Bihar elections and scan them under the lens of Masscom Unlimited.
An entity decides that it will finance a campaign that is inimical to the BJP.
The money is spent creating a high-octane sense of fear which is predicated entirely to communal suspicion as being the one issue guaranteed to ignite passion in a country where even rapists get a free pass.
Gradually, in incremental steps the pressure is increased and the target audience fed a certain diet drenched in bigotry. Every incident is magnified into a nationwide epidemic. The unwitting media is signposted and led like sheep to the scenes of the crimes. The atmosphere is seeded with doubt and fear. The ‘them’ and ‘us’ divide is pulled apart and everyone, regardless of colour or creed, begins to believe they are under threat.
After a volley of half lies comes the second part. A thousand individuals, much like a call centre, are co-opted to begin trolling canned and homogenised hatred. They feed websites and social media platforms with endless programming against a specific individual... in this case, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.
In the beginning there are few takers for the aggressive campaign. But with every display of synthetic evidence in the truth ‘window’, disbelief begins to melt like a heated candle. The ill wind is blowing support into the sails.
By the time the BJP realises there is a campaign out there bedrocked in communalism, intolerance, posturing and negative media publicity, it joins the race and tries to play catch up.
If you stay within the parameters of the Perry paradigm the prey has fallen for the trap. It is on the defensive and tries to counter the poisoned arrows flung at it. The Machiavellian mind behind the the whole plot wants exactly this. The lead is so vast he knows they can never catch up so he takes each feeble defence tactic from the BJP, who cannot understand what has hit them and twists it into an indictment.
Look at them! Anti-Dalit. Anti-Muslim. Even anti-Hindu. Anti-Bihar.
In its panic, the BJP frontline feeds the frenzy by being clumsy and giving ammunition to the plotters. Its frontline motormouths make stupid knee-jerk comments. This is normal human nature in that when you do not know what has hit you, what you do is strike back without any plan — just flailing in the dark. These comments balloon into major indictments. The trolls across the board are pushed into action, to turn these indictments into hardcore watertight evidence of the BJP’s perfidy.
Perry explains the most dramatic way to exploit those now playing on the back foot to a bouncer: Their honesty must be interpreted as heresy, as a dangerous deviation that must be discredited, then damned, then destroyed.
Did Bihar follow this road map? Everyone of us has to come to his or her own conclusion. The interesting element is that it could be we are reduced to zombies in an experiment in social psychology and behaviour.
Lemmings follow each other over the cliff. Humans do the same.
This is where it gets intricate. The battle is over. It has been won by parochialism and plan, however diabolical.
The election is over and the crimson tide rolls back. Suddenly, there is peace in the valley and normality has returned. Is this a coincidence? Will Masscomm continue to rule and choose our leaders by controlling our decisions in the future by telling us how and what we should think?
Possible? Probable? Already happening.
Here's what Twitter thinks.
Aamir Khan weighs in on the #IntoleranceDebate | Do you think India is intolerant?
— Firstpost (@firstpost) November 24, 2015
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Updated Date: Nov 25, 2015 16:47:59 IST