"Not one paisa has been taken from the Trust,"
declared the Congress spokesman with a show of righteous
indignation. He was declaiming on the Indira Gandhi National Centre
for the Arts. But the charge had been altogether different -- that
the Trust had been a Government-trust, that it had received Rs 134
crores of Government money and 23 acres of invaluable land, that it
had been converted into a private Trust by fraud, that the
conversion had been sanctified by collusion between a trustee and
the President of the Trust, Sonia Gandhi. Not one of these facts had
been disputed by the Congress. Within days, the Delhi High Court
itself came down in the strongest possible words on the fraud. It
went so far as to say that the pendency of the writ before it must
not come in the way of the Government undoing the usurpation.
But the Congress was following the rule: when
cornered, deny -- with great passion -- what has not been
That "denial" was typical. The entire campaign of
the Congress has been crafted around the all-too obvious rules of
advertising companies, and the all-too obvious propagandists!
"The bigger the lie, the more likely it is to be
believed" -- Hitler, not Goebbels; the latter counseled against
outright lies! As Congress has become a synonym for corruption,
allege corruption in everything the present Government has done --
even when, as in the case of the Telecom policy it has been done at
your urging; as Kargil was a striking victory, assert that in fact
it was a defeat; as Sonia Gandhi's foreign-ness is an issue, portray
Vajpayee as a traitor.
"Confine yourself to little, and repeat this
eternally," "A thousandfold repetition of the most simple ideas" --
both Hitler and Goebbels. That rule in turn rests on what is a
fundamental proposition with such cynics: that the people have an
extremely limited understanding. One must have the "courage", they
said, to go on repeating those few points endlessly. "The nature of
propaganda lies in its simplicity and repetition," Goebbels wrote in
his diary, "Only the man who is able to reduce the problems to the
simplest terms and has the courage to repeat them indefinitely in
this simplified form despite the objections of the intellectuals
will in the long run achieve fundamental successes in influencing
public opinion. If other methods are pursued he may influence a
circle of unstable intellectuals here and there but will not even
scratch the surface of the people."
Sugar scandal, sugar scandal, sugar scandal....
Even after the lie has been nailed, in fact specially after the lie
has been nailed you must go on repeating it. When, in the face of
facts, you keep repeating the lie, the people -- of limited
understanding as they are on this theory -- are liable to infer,
"There must be something to it, the fellow would not go on sticking
to the allegation."
(i) hurl a few simple allegations;
specially those of which the propagandists themselves are guilty;
(iii) repeat these endlessly;
(iv) specially in the face
The impression you want to convey about the
adversary should be simple. To drill it in, you must have not one
lie, but a barrage of them. In fact, you must not stick to one lie
for long: the adversary will prove the truth with evidence. So, keep
running. A fabrication every other day. True, soon enough that they
were all falsehoods will be established, but by then the campaign
will be over, the people will have been overwhelmed by other
problems. Hence, Bhagwat. Then Mohan Guruswamy. Then Telecom Policy.
Then telephone exchanges. Then sugar. Then wheat. Then planes. Then
a Category-III flat! Back to sugar....
That Category-III flat was a quantum leap! The
Congress spokesman had told all and sundry in Delhi with much flair
that he was going to Lucknow to reveal a sensational, explosive
scandal. The UP Congress scheduled a special press conference at
noon for the explosion. A number of newspapermen turned up. Vajpayee
applied for a flat and got an out-of-turn allotment in Delhi,
announced the spokesman -- that was the explosion.
Pressmen were incensed. Is this what we were called
for?, they remarked. At least Vajpayee paid for the flat. What about
the persons sitting to your left and right? These leaders of your
party in the state have not purchased a flat or two, they have just
taken over government bungalows -- what are you going to do about
Vajpayee has spent fifty years in public life. The
"sensational, explosive" revelation of the Congress spokesman
reminded people that he hasn't even a house to his name. That all he
has is a Category-III flat. That too something he paid for. And who
was the Prime Minister when this allotment was made?, the pressmen
asked. Narasimha Rao, it turned out!
Soon it was established that some notable
Congressmen too had been allotted flats from the same quota. The
government had made the allotments for the distinguished services
they had rendered to the country.
Not just that, the Supreme Court had instituted a
detailed inquiry into out-of-turn allotments. Every irregular
allotment had been scrutinized. The allotment to Vajpayee had never
been called in question as being even faintly irregular. On the
other hand, two Governors -- conspicuous members of the Congress --
had felt constrained to resign. Cases were going on against the then
Congress ministers for converting their discretionary quotas into
The footnote to the story was truly delicious. It
turned out that the spokesman who had traveled all the way to
Lucknow to make this sensational disclosure, and his family members
had received not a Category-III flat, but five plots of land from
Bhajan Lal, the then Chief Minister of Haryana! Each one of the five
had been an out-of-turn allotment. Bhajan Lal's largesse had been
taken to court. A Division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High
Court had found the allotments to be so bereft of merit that it had
canceled all of them in March 1997. Of the five plots, the spokesman
and his family had to forfeit three -- the remaining two had
survived because the Court chose to put the cut-off date at 1995,
and these two had been made over earlier.
But it would be wholly wrong to think that there
was any remorse at having hurled such a silly allegation. The
purpose of such hurling is not to convince, but to confuse.
Corruption was your characteristic. By these allegations -- wild as
they are -- you convey that the facts which have been established
about your misdeeds are also just allegations. Second, that similar
allegations exist about your adversary too.
The Congress seems to have been advised about an
additional advantage. Should your adversary bring up some new
embarrassing facts about you during the campaign, you can take the
high road, and regret that the campaign, "instead of focusing on
real issues," has descended to personal attacks! Better still, you
can get friendly journalists to lament "the levels to which the
campaign has descended"! This in turn yields several advantages.
(i) You are seen to be concerned about "the real
(ii) That you are the one who has been hurling
baseless allegations is covered up.
(iii) You and the
adversary are put at par.
(iv) Once you have conditioned the
people to believe that everybody is hurling allegations and
charges, you don't have to answer the facts that have been
revealed about you -- they are no better than the baseless
allegations which you have been hurling!
The more unverifiable the "event" the more useful
it is for lies! Summarising the practice of master-liars, Jacques
Ellul cautions, "Such lies must not be told except about completely
unverifiable facts. For example, Goebbels' lies could be on the
successes achieved by German U-boats, because only the captain of
the U-boat knew if he had sunk a ship or not. It was easy to spread
detailed news on such a subject without fear of contradiction."
Hence, fables about unrest in the Army "because the Prime Minister
is not speaking up to shield the higher command in the wake of the
controversies that have risen as a result of the letters that
Brigadier Surinder Singh is said to have written..."
As there is always the risk that some damned fool
may come out with the facts sooner than you expect, a handy device
is to demand, "All we are asking is that the Prime Minister come
clean with all the facts." That leaves a way out: "After all, what
did we demand? All we said was that the Prime Minister come clean
with the facts." Even better, the demand sets you up as the referee!
The Prime Minister is to state the facts, and you will decide
whether what he has disclosed amounts to "all the facts"!
Recall Sonia Gandhi's response to questions about
her friend, Ottavio Quatrocchi. There are no papers which link him
to Bofors, she said. If there are any such papers, let them show us
the papers, she demanded. The first part was an outright lie: when
the judgments of the highest court in Switzerland, of the Delhi High
Court, of the Supreme Court were given out, sudden silence.
A glance at the advertisements they have placed in
the newspapers -- and even more, the advertisements worth crores
which they have had placed in the name of a near-bankrupt
organization, "Communalism Combat" -- will show that there are other
Goebbelsian maxims too which the Congress has been following in this
The negative is stronger than the positive: not one
positive advertisement in their entire series.
Hatred is stronger than love: killers of the
Mahatma, butchers of Christians....
Fear is stronger than hope: the advertisements
placed in the name of "Communalism Combat" are textbook
illustrations of this maxim.
The central ingredient here is an instrumental view
of truth! The test is not whether what one is saying is true or
false. The only test is whether it serves the purpose!
In a sense, therefore, it is indeed appropriate
that the Congress fielded a lawyer as its spokesman! In theory,
lawyers are supposed to be officers of the court. In fact, large
parts of the profession have come to believe that their job is to
serve their client --- and for the purpose use whatever device seems
So, it has been entirely in character, that the
spokesman should -- in his capacity as a lawyer -- have appeared for
private cellular operators and argued that the then Telecom Policy
with its high license fees was a disaster, and, when the switch was
made to a revenue sharing regime, the very same person should -- in
his capacity as spokesman for the Congress -- have denounced the
changeover, and alleged a scam. It was entirely in character for the
spokesman to have raised doubts about the Prime Minister having
acquired a Category-III flat in a perfectly normal manner, when he
and his family members had got Bhajan Lal, the then Chief Minister
of Haryana, to grant them -- not one but -- five plots out of the
discretionary quota. It was entirely in character for him as the
spokesman of the Congress to cast doubts at the professional
integrity of the Attorney General, without mentioning that in his
other capacity he is the lawyer for a paper in a suit which the
Attorney General has been constrained to file against it for the
falsehood it published about him. It was entirely in character for
him to be releasing fabricated letters ostensibly written by a
Brigadier, and thus, apart from advancing the interests of the
Congress of which he was the spokesman, building up a sort of
defence through the press, without disclosing that he was himself
the lawyer of that Brigadier.
Of course, I do not want to push the parallel too
far: Goebbels and his kind -- Lenin and his lot, to take an allied
example -- were masters -- diabolic masters. These fellows are just
pocket editions! Those masters would never have put out statements
which were so patently false: that Vajpayee is a traitor, that he
was arming the ISI and the Pakistan Army to invade Kargil... The
lies of Goebbels, Lenin and company held the field for decades.
These fellows' allegations could not withstand a simple
miscalculation: that the campaign was a little longer than usual
turned out to be enough for their allegations to be shown up to be
the falsehoods that they were...
Saved again! In 1987-89 we had been saved by the
ham-handedness of the forgers. This time we have to thank the
incompetence of these fabricators.