Of spokespersons and spokescrows

 

These days, political parties need not only spokespersons but also spokescrows. For the parties do not just want to enunciate their policies and programmes, which are generally an exercise in baloney, but also—and this is more important—to defend the indefensible. So, they need the guys who are brash enough to justify every abomination, who shamelessly keep repeating lies, who crow with impunity.

As debates on news channels grow in popularity in which political rivals and analysts discuss issues threadbare, parties have to send their representatives to television studios to present and uphold their viewpoints. They can ill afford to give a walkover to their political opponents.

But the problem is that the position of every party on a variety of issues is increasingly becoming untenable. The Congress has been exhorting the nation about the ills of religious fanaticism or ‘communalism’ for ages, but it finds in contradiction in allying with some of the most retrograde Muslim outfits, including the Muslim League. The grand old party swears by secularism, but shies away from implementing the uniform civil code. It claims to be the champion of the poor, Gandhi, etc., and formulates policies that perpetuate poverty and has leaders who are rolling in money.

Similarly, the Bharatiya Janata Party has always stood against Article 370 of the Constitution and separatists, but it had no compunctions in joining hands with the separatism-friendly PDP. The saffron party even accepted the release of a proclaimed jihadist. The sins of BJP are many and varied: it railed against retrospective taxation, “tax terrorism”, et al, but persisted with it when it came to power; it demanded the release of the Henderson-Brooks report on the 1962 India-China War, but backtracked later; it is a long list.

In such a milieu, a conventional spokesperson will not do; what is needed is a spokescrow, who can crow incessantly, ignoring the pleas of the television anchor, the protestations of fellow panelists, and the annoyance of TV viewers. He must have the capacity to shout continuously, to babble endlessly without saying anything. In fact, the idea is never to say something, but to silence—literally—the opponents and critics.

The techniques applied are several. There is argumentum ad hominem: the arguer rather than the argument is attacked. So, Congress leaders do not provide answers to the questions of financial irregularities that Subramanian Swamy raises against Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in the National Herald case; instead, they denounce him as a communal, bigoted trouble maker. BJP leaders do not reply to the specific charges that Aam Aadmi Party activists hurl at them, but keep crowing about the inconsistencies of Arvind Kejriwal and company.

Spokescrows also rely on age-honored methods of deceit and sophistry. For instance, the traditional Nyaya School of Philosophy acknowledges jalpa, chhala, jati, and vitanda. Jalpa is a contest, not to seek or establish the truth, but to defeat the opponent, by hook or by crook, by equivocation, fallacy, and casuistry.

Chhala, as the name suggests, “means the intentional misinterpretation of the opponent’s arguments for the purpose of defeating him. Jati consists in the drawing of contradictory conclusions, the raising of false issues or the like with the deliberate intention of defeating an opponent” (A History of Indian Philosophy, S.N. Dasgupta).

A jalpa becomes a vitanda when it is only a destructive criticism which seeks to refute the opponent’s doctrine without seeking to establish or formulate any new doctrine, writes Dasgupta.

I doubt if any of the spokescrows is even aware of Nyaya—or, for that matter, any other school of philosophy, Indian or Western—but all of them use the most despicable methods employed by unscrupulous debaters in the old times. In the ultimate analysis, the depravity of political debate is the reflection of the depravity of politicians.