Painting a picture
Practice of ‘McCarthyism’ in India’s political and media circles is now widespread
February 9, 1950, was the Lincoln Day in the USA. Senator Joseph Raymond McCarthy was speaking at a meeting of Republican women members in West Virginia, USA. Suddenly in the middle of the speech, he took a piece of paper out of his pocket and said, "I have a list of names". The list, he claimed, includes 205 members of the Communist Party and a network of Russian spies who are working in the State Department. McCarthy's words added fuel to the fire. With the help of the media, the news of that list spread all over America. Although a member of the Senate since 1947, McCarthy did not make much of an impact on public opinion. But after the West Virginia speech, his influence gradually skyrocketed. It is because, in America, it was a time of transition from 'communist fear' to 'communist hatred'. In this context, McCarthy's speech was lapped up by the media, the Catholic clergy, the influential Kennedy family and other communist haters of the whole of America. McCarthy alleged that communists and Soviet spies and their supporters had infiltrated the US administration, universities, the film industry, the Voice of America, and other vital institutions, including the military. He called the Democratic Party government, led by President Harry S Truman, a communist sympathiser. He did not even spare his party candidate, President Eisenhower, and brought similar allegations of communist appeasement against him at a later date.
During these four years, from 1950 to 1954, McCarthy repeatedly made the same allegations, but could never prove them. In the language of the New York Times, McCarthyism is a dubious way to identify communists by making one allegation after another without any factual evidence. McCarthyism is now in vogue in India.
But McCarthy was a lonely, socially-outcast man in his last days. He had been repeatedly criticised for never being able to prove any of his allegations. There was no consistency in his statements. In the meeting in West Virginia, he had mentioned a list of 205 people, and a few days later at a rally in Salt Lake City, he talked about a list of 57 persons. In contrast, on February 20, 1950, in the Senate, he had mentioned the number as 81. The US Senate had decided to verify the allegations. A subcommittee, under the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, conducted the investigation. The chairman of the committee was Millard Tydings. The unanimous report of that subcommittee identified McCarthy's allegations as "a fraud and a hoax." After being elected to the Senate for the second time, the US Congress censored him in 1954. After that, he was a member of the Senate until he died in 1957, but he was virtually cut-off from public life. Even if he ever gave a speech in the Senate, the senators could not be seen to listen to it, and the media avoided him.
Since the beginning of the current decade, the primary tactics of McCarthyism — false propaganda, character assassination of dissidents, humiliating individuals or organisations in public by making false allegations — have been used all over the country. A section of the media colluded in spreading these false allegations.
From 2010-11, there was a storm across India against the then UPA government for allegations of corruption amounting to lakhs and crores of rupees. And in that storm, the Congress-led UPA government was blown away like a straw. Declaring jihad against corruption, the BJP-led NDA seized the throne of Delhi. Six years have passed since then, but has anyone heard of any discussion on the Rs 85,000 crore coal scandal or the Rs 1.75 lakh crore spectrum scandal?
It must be made clear here that there is no way to deny that the Congress party has given rise to corruption in politics and administration. But the storm of allegations of corruption against the UPA government since 2010 was a successful application of McCarthyism as later day turn of events show. The aim was only to ensure a massive victory for the rightist in the 2014 elections.
And after that success tasted by the right-wing, McCarthyism took root in the country, especially in the propaganda of the ruling party. The activities of the IT cell of the main ruling party of the country have now become a topic of discussion at various levels of society. In the wake of the recent Indo-China border clash, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman's statement was posted on Facebook by a member of the West Bengal BJP's IT cell, citing the CPM's Bengali daily 'Ganashakti'. The post had to be withdrawn within 24 hours as the matter was proved to be false. BJP's all-India general secretary Ram Madhab had to admit publicly that the post was wrong.
Along with such false political propaganda, the crackdown on dissidents and the critics of the government's policies are planned at the political and administrative levels. The plan is to follow the footsteps of McCarthy in raising false accusations. On June 6, 2018, Maharashtra Police arrested five persons from Mumbai, Nagpur, Delhi, based on an FIR lodged by the Pune Police on January 8, 2017. About three months later, five more people were arrested based on the same FIR from Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai. As news of the arrest spread, a section of the media, the police and the ruling party sprang into action.
Police delivered photocopies of an email message to a select group of journalists, and to the headquarter of the ruling party in Delhi. It was said that the email message was received from the computer of one of the arrested persons. With that began the activities of the Indian followers of Joseph McCarthy on a war footing. Within hours, every citizen of the country came to know that the Maharashtra police had arrested five top leaders of 'urban Maoists'. The story of the main opposition's relationship with the arrested Urban Naxalites was told at a press conference at the ruling party's headquarter in Delhi. This story, based on a copy of the email provided by the police, was circulated in the media without any verification of the authenticity of the message. Later, 'email' messages started appearing from time to time. So far, the police have sent 13 email messages to the journalists.
On February 9, 2016, the country was embroiled in a controversy surrounding a programme at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi. Few student leaders, portrayed as anti-national based on a video clipping, were arrested and imprisoned. The ruling party and part of the media worked overtime day after day to make the citizens aware of the threats on the country's security posed by these anti-national students. The government forensic laboratory reports later proved that the controversial video clippings are not genuine. Delhi Police has filed the charge sheet in the court three years after the incident in JNU.
Similarly, leading activists of the anti-CAA mass movement are being arrested on charges of instigating communal riots in Delhi. At the same time, some of the real culprits, who were heard making provocative speeches, roam scot-free. The propaganda to send the activists to jail by branding them as Maoists is based on information provided by the police. The police, violating legal provision, held a press conference and published various 'evidence' against the detainees whereas these same evidence has not yet been submitted to the court! And based on this so-called evidence, one or two channels have started spreading false propaganda and have begun calling the detainees as 'urban Maoists'. However, many of the retired IPS officers have elaborated that the letters published by the Maharashtra Police are ridiculous and cannot be accurate.
To implement the idea of one-party rule in a planned manner, the ruling political leadership of the country is trying to immerse the people in panic while simultaneously spreading ultranationalist fundamentalist ideas. That fear is sometimes named as 'Maoism' and at other times is termed as 'terrorism'. And to keep these people in a state of perpetual panic, some democrat, progressive people have been made scapegoats, and false propaganda has been carried out, in imitation of Joseph Raymond McCarthy's widely condemned heinous tactics.
Views expressed are personal