First Person | Lies, Damned Lies

As a nation, we prefer to turn our back to truth

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

Why does the government of India lie to its own people; especially on issues over which it has no control and no matter how much hand-wringing it does, it will not be able to direct the outcome of events? For instance, the David Coleman Headley case. We knew from day one that the only party that has control over this issue is the US government and it has already made up its mind what it wants to do. From the time Headley has been arrested, the US had made it clear that Indian agencies will not be given access to him. No amount of love for India can make the US government embarrass its own intelligence agencies. Yet, the Indian government continued to maintain that it will soon get to question Headley in person. From insisting on getting him extradited to India to going to the US to question him was a definite comedown, but even that was not true.

The moment home minister Chidambaram went to town declaring that assistant secretary Robert O Blake Jr has assured the government that the US is considering giving Indians access to Headley, the US ambassador to India, Timothy J. Roemer issued a clarification. He said, “As the assistant secretary indicated, the US is committed to full information sharing in our counter terror partnership and in fact in this case we have provided substantial information to the government of India and we will continue to do so. However, no decision on direct access for India to David Headley has been made…” And then we were dismayed by the US flip-flop.

All governments lie; to the world as well as to their own people. Sometimes they lie to save their own skin (read, government), and sometimes for what are euphemistically called the reasons of national security. But in India the government lies mostly to convey a sense of bravado to its own people. It lies so that the people believe that the government is in control of events and situations when it is not. It lies to maintain an illusion of moral uprightness to foster a sense of feel-good. And worse, it lies to hide its ineptitude and dirty politicking on issues of national import.

Nothing reflects this more sadly that the entire war-on-Naxal campaign mounted by the government over the last few years. That the government is waging a war against its own people, is only one side of the story, the other equally grim is that the very foot-soldiers who are expected to win the day for the government are being used as fodder in this grand plan. How many people realise that this is the fight between ill-trained, ill-equipped government forces (both state police and Paramilitary) and a band of semi-equipped, desperate jungle-dwellers led by opportunists who fight with numbers and not weapons. What is churned out for public consumption is the chimera of the specialist commandos of the state police like Grey Hounds and the CRPF’s CoBRA battalions darting in and out of the forests at will, taking on the criminal lot of Maoists who kill innocents with impunity.

The truth is totally unglamorous. The state police forces with a few exceptions, is ill-trained; and the specialist, highly-trained CoBRA battalions, the cream of the CRPF does not even possess bullet-proof jackets. Their weapons are as old or unreliable as the regular CRPF men. And they don’t slither down the helicopters in the jungles of Dantewada to attack their enemies; they walk on foot for miles and miles, because travelling in unprotected vehicles on mine-infested roads is suicidal. It would have been ironical, if it was not tragic. In this war, there are only victims on both sides of the battle lines. Yet, this is not what we get to hear.

Perhaps, one of the reasons that governments repeatedly get away with these half-truths and lies, is that we don’t want uncomfortable details, because as a nation, we have mastered the art of lying to ourselves and feeling good about it. I recently got a forwarded email message, which was purportedly the transcript of a speech former President APJ Abdul Kalam had delivered to some students. The mail which jingoistically blames the media for portraying a negative image about India, goes on to assert that: “We are such a great nation. We have so many amazing success stories but we refuse to acknowledge them. Why? We are the first in milk production. We are number one in remote sensing satellites. We are the second largest producer of wheat. We are the second largest producer of rice…”

Really? Which is why on human development index we hover close to the sub-Saharan countries, people still starve to death, over 50 per cent children are malnourished and all our so-called indigenously produced defence equipment are almost 60 per cent imported.

If indeed Kalam made these claims, as the email suggests, what does it say about us as a nation, as people. That we live and thrive on lies. Not only our government lies, our scientific community (those engineers of change who are supposed to turn India around) lies and has been consistently lying to the nation for decades. For a country of Mahatma Gandhi’s dreams we have certainly come a long way.


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