The Perception War and The Aam Aadmi of Politics

By Dr P R Prasad


But we Indians are not known for logic. Be it our movies or political pitches – emotions matter more than reason, or even truth. ……. So while radical politicians thrive, reasonable ones sink
— Chetan Bhagat

In politics it is necessary either to betray one’s country or the electorate. I prefer to betray the electorate
— Charles de Gaulle

It is a common man’s perception, as highlighted by the politician Kejriwal, that all existing political parties are corrupt with Congress topping the list. May be that the common people have voted Congress more often than the other parties and so the misdeeds or corruption cases of Congress leaders are more visible and easy to spot. Whenever the finger is pointed to someone for alleged misdeeds, the other parties start singing in chorus to prove the point that the allegation is “true”. The idea here is primarily to create an impression or perception among the common people that see – we are clean and we are the crusaders against corruption. It is generally referred to as “perception war” which politicians use to expolit the emotional weaknesses of “aam aadmi” to further their political ambitions. It depends on the politicians’ skill to emotionally charge the “aam aadmi” and make him blind to reason or truth. The rule of the game is simple – everything is fair in love and war.

Some of the incidents of “perception war” that we have come across in the recent times are unique in that they are not against the programs and policies of any political party, but personal allegations of corruption directed towards individuals. For example:

Narendra Modi, Chief Minister and a very respected leader of Gujrat, accused Sonia Gandhi of draining Rs.1880 crore of government money on her foreign travel and treatment during the last few years. The amount of Rs.1880 cr was cited on the basis of information from one RTI activist Ramesh Verma. This accusation he made several times in his rallies. However, Ramesh Verma denied this and the data released by PMO, CIC and various embassies reveal that no government money was spent on Sonia Gandhi’s travel or treatment except for the cost borne on her security which adds upto less than a crore. So it hardly matters whether the accusation is “true” or “untrue”, Modi drew thunderous applause from the “aam aadmi” whenever he made this accusation in his rallies. Modi wins the “perception war”.

The new politician Arvind Kejriwal and his team accused Robert Vadra, husband of Priyanka Gandhi and son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, of shoddy and illegal business deals, misusing his position of proximity to Sonia Gandhi, amassing wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income and use of black money of Congress in his business. Congress immediately jumped into the defense of Vadra on the ground that the attack was not on Vadra but on Congress party and its leadership. Kejriwal’s team is not willing to lodge any formal complaint to any agency or institution on the ground that they do not expect any agency to go against ruling Congress. They are neither willing to go to the court on the ground that it makes no sense for going to the court for every petty matter. In an interview with Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN, Kejriwal fumbled for appropriate answers and agreed that his purpose is to make the people aware of the issues the country is confronted with. TV channels are covering this news round the clock and also conducting discussions among experts drawn from the various sections of the society to analyze and dig into the issue. So “true” or “untrue”, the “aam aadmi” is forced to ponder over Kejriwal’s surmises of a nexus between Congress, Sonia Gandhi & her family and the loot in the country.  Kejriwal wins the “perception war”.

Kejriwal’s team is protesting against high electricity charges and inflated electricty bills in Delhi. They have appealed to people not to pay the electricty bill. They have also burnt the electricity bills. They have reconnected and restored the power supply in some houses and have threatened to cut off the power supply of CM Sheila Dikshit’s house. The officials say that the restoring of electrical connection by Kejriwal is “illegal” and he is trying to spread “anarchy” and “lawlessness”. Illegal or not, some people say we will vote for Kejriwal and not for Sheila Dikshit if he restores our electricity connection. Kejriwal wins again.

In the “Aap Ki Adalat” program on India TV last week-end, Rajat Sharma asked Subramanian Swamy – “दिग्विजय सिंह कहते हैं कि बाबा रामदेव बाबा कम और businessman ज्यादा हैं”. Subramanian Swamy replied – “मैं तो कहता हूँ कि दिग्विजय सिंह आदमी कम और जानवर ज्यादा हैं”. This received a thunderous applause from the audience. Whether calling somebody “जानवर” is decent or not, Subramanian Swamy wins.

These are just some of the recent examples where we find how one can humiliate others and win the “perception war” through any means – decent or indecent, legal or illegal, truthful or untruthful, ethical or unethical. While winning the “Perception War” is important strategy of politicians to get votes of “Aam Aadmi” in their favour, its larger social impact is generally ignored.

The “Aam Aadmi” is watching how one succeeds by humiliating and denigrating others and using the same tool for himself to succeed or win over others. We are increasingly finding this tendency in the society – in the families, in the organizations, in the mohallas – everywhere. It is difficult to believe if this cultural aberration will make India a better place to live for our generations to come.