Much has been written about the ‘dynamism’ and ‘influence’ of the government in power in India. Following a strong leadership model, the Bhartiya Janata Party has definitely made an unprecedented following; to the point that any criticism of the government or its leader, Narendra Modi, is seen as a criticism of India and Indianness, and any shortfall is carpeted under the garb of ‘National Interest’ or ‘faults of the minority community.’ BJP’s long-standing clash with the Muslim population has also been accepted with open arms and seemed to have inspired people to unleash their coveted Islamophobia openly, in all its discriminatory and dangerous grace.
However, the party has also implemented various large-scale inadequate policies and failed to deliver on many of its promises that has impacted its followers, including but not limited to demonetisation, reduction in education expenditure, failure to create jobs and double farmer’s income etc. So, why is it that BJP and Modi still amass such a huge following among the Indian population? Why is its failure deliberately forgotten by the common masses? Perhaps, psychology has some insights into the same.
Human beings have a tendency of privileging the veracity of their opinions over others. Termed as ‘naïve realism’, this tendency asserts that one’s perception of the world is an objective representation of one’s surrounding. In other words, even if we agree that everyone is entitled to their opinions, there is a tendency to hold our opinion, (which is one in many) as the ultimate truth.
On the surface it seems contradictory; on one hand, we accept the existence of multiple viewpoints and on the other, we often automatically posit our opinions as the reality without negotiating with opposing perceptions. Perhaps, we are not as intelligent and cogent as we try to believe. Perhaps, we are not as evolved as we pride ourselves to be and our lack of self-awareness becomes even more dangerous as one realises that ‘our views’ are usually not ‘ours’. It is, eventually a sum of the information that we are receiving, the source of our information and other external factors.
For instance, people stuck to Republic TV all day long, without an intentional critical consciousness is more prone to believe that India is under threat from a handful of students from JNU, one of the few internationally accredited universities in India, or that our PM doesn’t sleep, or that India’s success lies in ‘Pakistan’s destruction.’ In other words, we often go ahead with the narrative planted in our heads by external factors and try to rationalise it for our own assurance. A Republic TV fan would not only believe these prejudices, but also add to its truthfulness with his own thoughts and opinions, thereby forming his apparently ‘objective’ opinion of the world.
It is in this planting of narratives, where we can find BJP’s secret to success and power. So, how are narratives made by political parties? The psychological process, known as Benjamin Franklin effect shows an eerie explanation for the same.
The Benjamin Franklin Effect
Benjamin Franklin effect claims that humans grow to like and defend ideas, groups and political thoughts that make us work for them. In other words, we like things that we work for and invest our time in, as compared to those that work for us.
That is to say, we can increase following among people by assigning them tasks, that they would do for us. For example, if you ask a ‘long lost friend’ of yours to help you out of an uncertain situation, they are likely to keep you in their good books. This is because, when we work for a cause, we tend to rationalise our actions. This is also called cognitive dissonance, a process where we often feel the need to justify actions that we don’t agree with.
Modi’s politics find a resonance with the same. Right from Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, to demonetisation to the current thali-banging/candle-light ceremony during COVID pandemic, our Prime Minister has often come to National Television with a friendly ‘mitro’ and bundles of pleas.
We do this to avoid labelling ourselves as exploited or fooled. We create and solidify good reasons behind these actions. If this ‘long lost friend’ of yours helps you out of a difficult situation, they would probably rationalise it by thinking that you are not a bad person indeed and coming to your aid was a good choice. They would also try to invisibilise your mistakes, in order to rationalise their association with you. Thus, the secret of community building often lies in the art of asking for help!
Modi’s politics find a resonance with the same. Right from BJP’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, to demonetisation to the current thali-banging/candle-light ceremony during COVID pandemic, our Prime Minister has often come to National Television with a friendly ‘mitro’ and bundles of pleas. During Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the onus of cleaning the nation was put on the common masses, demonetisation asked the entire country to stand in front of empty banks and thali-banging exercise asked people to contribute in their fight towards Coronavirus (somehow).
Though public contribution towards policy initiatives aren’t wrong by any means, what is happening is quite different. When people are asked to contribute in these tokenistic traditions, there is a deflection from the important areas that the government continues to ignore.
For instance, waste management and industrial pollution remains in its dismal position to this day. Moreover, the conditions of manual scavengers who belong to the Dalit community remains horrendous. The are still stuck in the toxic web of caste segregation and forced to clean sewers in life threatening situations. However, criticizing the government here would mean devaluing the photographs that its supporters clicked with broomsticks and uploaded on their social media feed. It would delegitimise their display of solidarity.
Similarly, passing on simple WhatsApp messages flattering the ruling party (which more often than not, are propagated by BJP’s IT cell), makes its followers merge their identity with it. Resultantly, the same people show no qualms in supporting or turning a blind eye to the derogatory statements and instigating communal remarks that are released from the same machinery. Even demonetisation which brought immense mental and financial stress on the larger Indian populace seem to have been redeemed. People would rather chant praises of the government, for whom they have invested their days in a futile exercise. This was replicated in the recent thali-candle exercise.
At a time, when hundreds of migrant workers are caught up in a terrible humanitarian crisis and Muslims across the country are demonised as corona jihadis, people seem more than happy to receive silence from the PM on these matters. Showing solidarity for medical staff is by no means harmful. However, the solidarity needs to come from an inclusive-safe society and the class and religious bias in the issues that the government choose to highlight should be open to criticism. Unfortunately, this exercise was followed by a predictable appreciation of people in power and a sad invisibalisation of the marginalised population who were left scared and stranded.
If Benjamin Franklin effect has uncaptured our imaginations, it is imperative that we become increasingly conscious of our actions. Are we participating in a tokenistic activity targeted at diverting our attention from major issues? Who is suffering from the same and how are we making ourselves complicit in these sufferings?
Featured Image Source: Rediff