The “public” today can, perhaps, be defined as one big collection of fake news. The liberal elite and the progressives can be defined as one big collection of asinine truth, one which exposes fake news and yet is powerless.
Modi knows this. That is why he stands out in following fake news Twitter handles and rabid right-wing trolls. When the PM follows trolls, we seriously think that trolls are the new agents of history, they are the real janta janardhan - and fake news the real sentiments of the people. Good preparation for 2019!
But Modi is beside the point. The thing is: fake news excites, has real effects. It gets people killed. Truth is what comes after the mayhem. Truthers will most likely sit back, defeated, but with the self-happy knowledge that they know “what really happened”. Truth is a fizzless drink, bland. With the victory of Donald Trump, fake news won, and truth proved to be still-born, clerical, almost trivia. Fact-checkers and truth tellers got the facts right, but lost the narrative.
Fake news is completely interactive. The subject, the receiver, endows it with credibility. Take that video which fomented riots in Muzaffarnagar in 2013. Of course, it was a fake video, from two years before the incident and from Sialkot in Pakistan. So what? The intended effects did follow nevertheless! The riot or killing shown in the video might not have happened here. It happened elsewhere - hence the video is fake. But we must act as though it happened here! We must react and “teach them a lesson”!
And, then, there was actually no beef in Akhlaq's fridge, but it could have been there! It was just bad luck that we did not find the beef that day. In fact, we might be never be able to find it.
Screengrab from the video used to trigger Muzaffarnagar riots.
That only shows how cunning, dangerous our enemies are - they leave no evidence! So we have to add or attribute the truth - we have to see beef where it does not exist. It is the solemn task of the receiver to see the hidden coded message in the video and not be stupid enough to read it literally, as not pertaining to the desire for a riot. The enemies do not leave actual evidence, so we have to interpret and extrapolate, build on what is not there but could have been the case. Treating fake news as actually fake and thereby blocking a “reactive” riot would mean being an utter fool, a vested interest siding with the enemy. “Evidence” in any case is what anti-nationals and presstitutes ask for.
The ”evidence” is the plot, the conspiracy only a few can see. Add it to the fake news and make it true. Add prejudice; add the latent ill-will coming from stereotypes about the other. After all, once the truth is known, the rioters do not repent. They do not later go and beat up those who instigated them with fake news. Ashok Parmar, “the face of the 2002 Gujarat riots”, repented much later in the day. He very likely says today that he was a victim of fake Hindutva propaganda - apparently he had only posed for the cameras in that jingoistic killer picture. Does he want to consider the entire pogrom of Muslims as fake too?
Fake news makes us intelligent, clever. It demands that we unpack and see things for not what they are but what they could have been. It makes radicals of us. We are not part of the general population, manipulated by the “big media”, the “Lutyens' media”. We challenge the consensus. We cannot be naive, and take things for what they seem to be, or what they actually are. We cannot believe in evidence. Not the writing on the wall, but the writing under the wall - what was before the wall. Place an idol and get it stolen, as Paul Brass convincingly showed in his Theft of an Idol.
Fake news provides a cause - to struggle against the given, against what actually happens, and uncover a hidden agenda, a plot, a conspiracy. Even though you cannot see the plot, you better prepare against it. Hence we must go on declaring what is fake to be true. The problem is ”ordinary people” - left to themselves, will never riot or kill each other and might even believe in the truth of the ”pseudo-seculars”. So we must do something in order to arouse them, transform ordinary day to day stereotypes into sure signs that a religious war is on.
Here is the historical problem: how does one transform an ordinary guy into someone who will callously press the button on “them” - mass murder and pogroms to be carried out as though it is just routine office work or just banal, what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil”.
But listen to Babu Bajrangi and you know evil here is not banal but one marked by passion, anger, and pleasure. Arendt is talking about a totalitarian order, where even dreaded right-wing thugs and gangs no longer exist. We live under democracy: these are mass murders under a democracy, teeming with thugs and gangs. Hence mass murders will be full of passion, sentiments and pleasures. Bajrangi boasts and takes pride in the mayhem he unleashed. Think of the excitement of trolls and hate speech, the sick pleasures of calling the press “presstitutes”.
Such are the passions and pleasures we are talking about. The fact-checkers and truth sayers are cruel and emotionless - they want to take away these pleasures.