What is post-truth? In simplest terms, post-truth is lies and fake news. According to John Keane, Prof of Politics, University of Sydney it is a type of communication which is bullshit, buffoonery, it includes nonsense moments, jokes, boasting, clever quips, pedantry and willful exaggerations. Post-truth is also about engineered silence and forced diversion from real issues. Post-truth is shaped by what is ‘unsaid’ and what is ‘unsayable’. Post-truth is also a show, an entertainment. It is gas lighting the public, a preferred tactics of narcissists and aggressive personalities, they confuse and sow seeds of doubt and discontent. The leader who tells these lies would often also outrightly deny having said any of them or say they have been mis-quoted (Post-truth politics and why the antidote isn’t simply ‘fact-checking’ and truth, John Keane, The Alternative)

The real worrying trend of post-truth is that they get legitimacy through government’s reports and communications and the latest such example is the The Economic Survey 2019. More than fake news and lies targeting the political opponent, this is the real danger of post truth politics.

Nudge Theory

The Economic Survey has made a great change in its approach. Facts, data, statistics, and evidence are rejected as unnecessary and reliance made upon a single leader or a demagogue’s ability, needless to say Modi, to move masses. The new approach is called ‘nudge economics’ or ‘behavioural economics’ a concept found by Nobel Prize wining economist Richard Thaler.

Note here, BJP has a special love for Thaler, this is the same economist who at the spur of the moment said demonetization was a great move, and within minutes corrected himself when somebody reminded him that old currency notes will be replaced by new ones.

The BJP IT Cell chief Amit Malviya took screenshot of the first tweet, conveniently ignored the second tweet in which he changed his position, and the social media sena of BJP went about the whole world with it bragging that demonetization is approved by Thaler. In fact they are still running, that’s the nature of post-truth, it never dies no matter how many time you tell the truth. So BJP loves Thaler though usually they reject all wisdom from Nobel prize winning economists and other experts like Amartya Sen or Raghuram Rajan.

Chapter 2, Vol 1 – Key Message

Chapter 2, Vol 1 of the Economic Survey 2019 opens with the key message, “We cannot rely totally on ‘rational’ thinking to gain information, as it is not without its bias.” Explaining the concept, CEA KV Subramanian wrote in a tweet, “Real people respond to context rather than narrow “rational” calculations…nudging behaviour change is simplest way to change gender equations.” The Survey worryingly also suggests going back to religious codes and diktats of the pre-enlightenment era.

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Is Not Enough Evidence

The Survey cites the success of ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ scheme, which shows a positive change in sex ratio, as a proof of gender equality by nudge behaviour. It claims that there have been improvement in sex ratio in the areas where it was implemented and therefore it is the best solution to gender inequality.

Such simplistic solution to complex problems based upon one person’s demagoguery is a dangerous thing. Improvement in sex ratio is welcomed, but the fact remains that the core idea behind BBBP is not very progressive and it doesn’t address women’s gendered identity.

A multi-pronged data and evidence collection on the conditions of new born, adolescents and women, their education status, political and economic participation etc must be made before making tall claims of success or providing simple solutions. The Global Gender Gap Report by World Economic Forum, the Gender Development Index by UNDP are such reports which take at least 5-6 factors in consideration.

Instances of post truth narratives creating confusion and distrust in government are many. From GDP data to unemployment rate to the impact of demonetization on economy to the real achievements of the Balakot air strike to the state of terrorism in Kashmir – on each issue multiple narratives are presented all claiming to be true. All cannot be true, there is an objective reality, as the famous adage goes, “The truth is out there” and it should be our collective endeavour to find it.