Election Commission & Propaganda Politics

In a democratic set up, it is the norm to woo the voters with a narrative based on the ideology of the party and its leadership to the be able to mobilise voters and cadre to work for them and put them into the positions of power. From times immemorial where the will of the people was used to elect their representatives, there has been innovation in the way which were deployed by politicians to further their bid at the throne by moulding the electorate as suited to their cause. In India, the Indian National Congress and the freedom fighters/ revolutionaries mobilised mass support and effected their agenda by using effective tools of mass communication and addressing public rallies, or even committing crimes against the British Raj which will send their message loud and clear to the people through radio, newspapers and private parleys.

The art of propaganda was not used or innovated globally until the late 19th century when the modernising economies of the European continent were faced with the looming threat of radical movements to overthrow the governments of the day which often ruled by the blended authority of the Church and the barrel. The best deployment of propaganda for the first time in history of the modern world may be seen in the series of events leading to the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia, where the 300 year old Czar regime was brutally overthrown by the citizenry of the Russian nation. The duo of Lenin and Stalin together first deployed the power of propaganda through wide circulation of content and material to the masses which made them believe that their lives deserved a change. It was such dissemination of Marxist ideology that catapulted the growth of Lenin to the annals of power.

Subsequently, the same trend was devised in Nazi revolution in Germany, and Indian revolution also. Interestingly, once the propaganda is used to brainwash the masses, the most articulate ways of the propaganda are required to keep the masses to pay obeisance and adherence to the ruling party, often coupled with the erratic use of force of the State. Goebbelsian logic of selling propaganda to a people is flawed without the use of the force of the State.

This same trend has been deployed world over, ever since the second world war. The Geobbelsian logics define the modern day propaganda, which is seen when the ruling party deploys the might of the State to seek obesiance to its propaganda, while the opposition uses the force of its cadre to grab the attention of the masses. The propaganda is merely always a sham for the voters since the real problems facing the people of a State are not appropriately addressed but the propaganda machine is used by the political forces to such an extent that strngthens their claim upon the seat of power.

Propaganda & the Indian Emergency:

The modern day politcal-scape of India was defined in the post-emergency period, new leaders and new political movements were born all on the back of propaganda. The Opposition at that time protrayed Indira Gandhi as a tyrant and usurper, while the ruling party justified its stand on the ground that the political rallying against her government was motivated by shallow selfish interests of leaders back then.

The truth indeed was in reality very different from what the propaganda of the ruling party and opposition. The years of emergency offered political stability to the Indian people like never before and the industry and commerce flourished, at the same time, the opposition never saw that their radical approach made the government machinery more corrupt and ruthless, and they moserably failed at their limited stint at power to deliver to the masses as per thier own propaganda, instead, the masses voted for Indira Gandhi again and with overwhelming majority.

Propaganda & Liberalisation:

The Nerhuvian Socialism was a doctrine that was a blended concept of state controlled enterprises and laissez-faire economy. The Russians helped further their agenda of Socialist/ Communist world during the Cold War period, when the Chinese went on to flirt with the West and Indians chose to stay neutral. Many in the Opposition since the dawn of independence believed in laissez-faire, capitalist economy but the propaganda rallied around socialism and communism till 1993 when after the fall of the USSR, the Indian government was staring at a massive balance-of-payments crisis and was unable to manage the economy and sought the help from the IMF and the World Bank. The mandarins of the Indian National Congress of the day then centred their propganda on opening up of the Indian economy to the world, and sold the idea as a boon for the economy. What we come to see today is huge reliance of the economy on imports, wealth drain, and income inequalities. Yes, that is the power of propaganda.

Propaganda & Rise of BJP and AAP to Power :

The Congress in alliance with other regional parties formed government in India in 2004 and continued to stay in power till 2014, when the Lokpal agitation, hue and cry over corruption and inflation gave the BJP the largest opposition party of India at that time the propganda which it sold through the new mediums of mass communication, i.e. Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Whatsapp and Twitter. The BJP created a propaganda which was aggressively disseminated that Indians have suffered for years under the rule of the INC and the Oppostion (parties in Opposition today), the levels of dissemination of this propaganda amounted to brainwashing, where Mr. Narendra Modi made great promises which can be paralleled to the famous rise of nationalism in the European continent in the prelude to the WW-II.

The famous Lokpal agitation of the time resulted in ousting the Shiela Dixit led Delhi Government from power and putting an ex-IRS officer and lead agitator Arvind Kejriwal into the seat of power at Delhi. The propaganda that Arvind ji agitated was massive taxation, financial mismanagement of the governments of the day and the past, as well as corruption as being the sole reason for the plight of the Indian people. This idea was disseminated with the promise of free electricity and free water to all households, and the underlying reason was better fiscal management.

Propaganda & Vendetta Politics:

Today, we see the Opposition parties alleging the Central Government of using the CBI and ED against its political opponents with a propaganda, that they are corrupt. The stand of the ruling party is that it is against corruption and the opposition says it is incorrigible so they ruling party is using the State’s might to suppress their political mobilisation.

Again, both the ruling party and the opposition use their own narrative/ propaganda to further aims of getting closer to the seat of power in Delhi and elsewhere.

Propaganda & Freebies:

Freebies’, in pure and simple terms as per Oxford dictionary means something provided for free, while ‘Free’, means without charge. After independence various regional parties and the parties forming governments at the Centre offered things and concessions to the people to mobilise them to vote them to power to get the benefits of the things that are being given when the particular political party comes to power. These have been cycles, handpumps, motors, electricity bill waivers, farm loan waivers, laptops, washing machines, TVs and the list is very long. Amazingly, the freebies and welfarist handouts have been hardsold through the use of propaganda, and sops like the few named above form a part and parcel of political propaganda like government jobs to the unemployed youth. So, if the Punjab government promises to offer farm loan waivers and free elcetricity, or the Bihar government offers to give 10 lakh jobs, or the UP government offers to give scooties to all girl students joining Universities, all these sops are propganda being furthered to secure power and then encashing on the taxpayer’s money through ways and means reflecting in the state of the economy of the present day.

Propaganda is what defines social change for the masses, and the political forces are responsible for mobilising people through the dissemination and broadcasting of their propaganda with the help of the medium of communications available to them. If the political party vying for power popularises the idea that the people need something for free and people give their attention to such an idea, it is propaganda, and it furthers the cause of the political party proposing such a thing that will enhance its chances of coming to power.

All manifestoes of the political parties are also propganda, as well as all the debates we see on TV and the rallies or articles, to our Facebook pages too.

Good Propaganda vs. Bad Propaganda:

“Politics without propaganda is a mirage”, no politics can thrive without a propaganda and no political movements can be carried out and translated in clutching power without artful propgandists. The political animal cannot form opinons in a democracy without ascribing to one propganda or the other. But then, where does the propganda begin to become bad and unhealthy for the larger public, and in turn becomes detrimental to the well-being of a nation as juxtapposed with state sponsored propganda of the Chinese and Russians?

By all means we can declare the propaganda promoted by totalitarian regimes like China, Afghanistan, Kingdoms of the Middle East, Cuba and Russia, as bad without pondering much while at the same time the propaganda of the Capitalist nations of the West and developing countries can also transcend into the realm of counter-productive propaganda like we saw in the US after years of aggressive lending push, we saw the crisis of 2008 and the need for the introduction of Obamacare, or the Brexit from the EU, or targetted violence against the iimigrants in developed countries or push for Shariat based living in the middle east nations is not just counter productive but is against the global ethics of shared living.

All propganda is borne out of the need to stay relevant in either the fight to secure power or maintain power, the propaganda is also prone to the proverb, ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

In a democratic set up for example like that of India where the Election Commission of India is tasked with managing elections and overseeing the political activity, should undoubtedly also be the arbitter between ‘We the People of India’ and the political propganda of the multitude of political parties and politicians active in the nation. The sole reason for this is the propaganda drives people to make their choices at the ballot, then governments are formed which make attempts at fulfilling their poll promises, from any perspective (from financial to social, ethical and moral, and everything in between and around) the propganda determines and impacts the choices of the people to such an extent that it may translate into fanaticism resulting in Udaipur killings, suicide bombings, and widespread chaos to peaceful protests, and massive support in a constuctive way such as Swacch Bharat and Har Ghar Tiranga.

In a democratic set up the political discourse should be monitored with carefully laid down guidelines and political activity should be checked and synced with the futuristic view of the Republic rather than mere short sighted goals of coming to power. The Election Commission should be bestowed upon with its own dispute resolution mechanisms between political actors and it si at a later stage the Courts should be tasked with the power to adjudicate upon political disputes.

Election Laws should be made exhaustive and comprehensive to regulate the political activity and allied sectors to such an extent that the political activity never becomes coutner-productive, especially in the absence of intitiative and referendum, there must be a proper mechanism in place to regulate the political propaganda in the nation, in which the Election Commission of India must play a pro-active role.

Recently, before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, the Election Commission chose to not to be a party in the ongoing hearings in the matter where the issue of what constitutes ‘freebies’ is to be adjudged. The issues of ‘freebies’ is the financial aspect of the political propaganda, which more than being debated upon or discussed upon, needs to be independently researched as to what were the implications of the populist policy measures of the past governments and how they impacted the State finances, and the burden that followed therefrom, or the burden that may follow on the taxpayer if other such policies are allowed to be a part of the political propaganda and translated into actual policies.

The issue of freebies just points to the overdue reforms in electoral laws of India where as a developing nation we are faced with the pressing issue of regulating the political propaganda to reign in the chaos that is brought about in the nation by keeping in mind the future of the Republic.

However good or bad a political propaganda maybe, the impartial state-actors such as the Election Commission of India have a greater role to play in terms of regulating the political activity in the future, because it is about the larger good, and no freedom can be absolute be it freedom to political activity.