The government of India recently rejected the US Department of States International Religious Freedom Report 2018 that had taken a critical view of religious freedom in India. The report alleges the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and majoritarian Hindutva ideology responsible for, what the reports suggests, ‘growing violence against minorities’. “Some senior officials of the Hindu-majority Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made inflammatory speeches against minority communities. Mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumors that victims had traded or killed cows for beef,” the report said.
The report is not a piece of opinion but a compilation of facts. It contains a list of incidents of “violence, intimidation, and harassment” against Muslims, Dalits and Christians carrying the date, place and other necessary verifiable details of each incident. Besides cases of violence, the report also provides an assessment of the status of government and society’s respect for religious freedom, government practices, and legal framework.
The facts mentioned in the report are presumably open to verification and challenges but the Indian government did not walk that path. The report is rejected outright on the basis of emotive counter allegations and whataboutism instead of facts.
The Centre alleged USA of being biased against the BJP and questioned the nation’s locus standi in the matter. The government could have run a fact check and rejected the report on merits. Alternatively, they could have simply acknowledged it without taking it seriously. Instead, hyperbole, whaboutery and conspiracy theories took precedence over objective realities. Several TV channels held talks and debates to create the narrative that US has ulterior motives to divide Indians. Certain pro-BJP columnists have alleged the US government of “promoting Christianity in the guise of human rights” by making such reports. Members of the BJP even said that Indian Minorities are feeling the safest ever under Modi government. BJP’s Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that nobody ever doubted Muslim’s nationalism.
These responses are a bit ironic considering the same day the Report came, one more case of mob lynching of a Muslim man, Tabrez Ansari, was reported from Jharkhand. By the time I am writing this piece, dozens of more such cases have been reported from across India. According to India Spend which is tracking hate crimes since 2012 a total of 133 cases are reported, and 90% of them are after Modi came to power in May, 2014. But all these facts are denied by the government, even as the government stopped publishing NCRB data since 2016. So government will not publish data, and they will not accept data prepared by citizens and blindly claim everything is ok.
If one says minorities are not safe, another says they are the safest, both statement cannot be true. So what’s going on? Are the BJP leaders living in an alternate reality that they even refuse to see a systemic problem? Why do they take hyper-emotive positions far removed from objective reality?
Not alternative reality but the post truth era is here in India. Truth has lots its relevance and shared value, anything and everything is accepted as truth so long as a formidable popular leader and demagogue can assert it and command support. Truth are being replaced by either blatant lies or distortions and misinformation using fake videos, photoshoped images, whatsapp forwards.
The real worrying trend of post-truth is that fake news and lies get legitimacy through government’s official reports and communications. The Modi government has artfully used some of the post truth narratives to cause long term damage to the relevance of truth and objectivity in Indian politics. The post-truth trend of rejecting facts, data, statistics, and evidence as unnecessary and reliance upon a single leader or a demagogue’s ability to move masses has quietly entered the latest Economic Survey in what has been described as ‘nudge economics’ or ‘behavioural economics’.
In this blog I track post-truth narratives and post-truth politics in India. Click here for all the articles in this series.
Coming up next: Post-truth in the Economic Survey.