SHIVAM SHANKAR SINGH and ANAND VENKATANARAYANAN
In ‘The Art of Conjuring Alternate Realities’, Shivam Shankar Singh and Anand Venkatanarayanan write how political parties, godmen, nation states manipulate our thoughts.
Love jihad’, the provocative term that links romantic love to an act of violent terrorism, was a term that rose to national prominence in 2009. The term refers to a conspiracy theory that alleges that Muslim men are trying to specifically woo women belonging to non-Muslim communities in order to get them to convert to Islam. It has since gained more traction as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which came to power at the Centre in 2014, has built an active campaign in order to fight this practice that they claim is widespread and is destroying Hindu society.
It is pertinent to note that there have been several police investigations across the country into the practice of ‘love jihad’, most of which have concluded that no such organized campaign exists; other investigations remain pending.
The purpose of this book isn’t to prove or disprove the prevalence or existence of ‘love jihad’ or any other political term or phenomenon, it is to understand how and why realities are conjured. For this, it is necessary to establish the fact that no one has proven the existence of love jihad or even tried to show that interfaith marriages are a widespread phenomenon in India. It is to further this understanding that we have chosen to analyse how the love jihad theory was popularized and then cemented in people’s minds.
The Framework of Conjuring Alternate Reality
Most of us like to think that we are very rational creatures. We inherently believe that we don’t make our decisions based on external influences or what others around us are doing. This belief in our own decision-making abilities proves to be an important vulnerability that the conjurers of alternate reality depend upon to convince us of things that they want us to believe. If humans were more cognizant of their own vulnerability and were on the lookout for traces of the tools used by the conjurers of alternate realities, their goal of shaping our beliefs would have been much harder to meet.
Even though it is a mix of art and science, the process of creating alternate reality has developed a predictable framework over the years.
The framework consists of five elements that are developed in sequence. These elements, commonly abbreviated to ON3C (O-N- Triple C) in some circles that work on conjuring reality, consist of the following:
We will evaluate each of these elements in the context of love jihad to understand the process of creating this reality.
Objective: The Consolidation of Hindus as a Vote Bank
The ruling political party in India, the BJP, has long relied on a consolidation of Hindu votes to win elections. The objective of the party, like that of any other political party, is to win elections, and for this they must consolidate a core group of voters. While some parties in India have relied on caste-based vote banks that act as its core base, the core base of the BJP consists of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) workers and other individuals unified by a core belief in Hindutva, an ideology seeking to establish the hegemony of Hindus. It has established its identity as that of a party fighting for Hindu rights while claiming that other parties engage in the appeasement of minorities, especially Muslims. It is in this context that the love jihad theory has been built and proliferated.
Narrative: Hindus Are Under Threat
To achieve its objective of consolidating Hindus into a voting bloc that votes specifically for the BJP to preserve its Hindu identity, the party relies on several different narratives. These narratives can be divided broadly into two sets.
The first set of narratives is built to establish the fact that the BJP is the sole protector of Hindus while the other parties choose to side with other minority religions. These narratives are established through different means, like the BJP overtly displaying that it will side with Hindus during conflicts. It also builds this narrative through displays of its own Hindu credentials by focusing on agendas like the building of the Ram temple in Ayodhya after decades of Hindu–Muslim conflict.
The second set of narratives is designed to lead to Hindu unification and the establishment of a strong Hindu identity within the population. For this, the party glorifies ancient Hindu culture, showcases Hinduism as a religion that is better than all others, gets Hindus to display symbols of the religion with pride, and instils the sentiment that Hindus are under threat in India and must unify to ensure their existence.
It is to reinforce this last narrative—that Hindus are under threat—that the love jihad campaign has been deployed.
Context: Muslims Want to Convert Everyone
Once the objective is clearly outlined and a narrative that furthers that objective is chosen, the next task for a conjurer is to find existing beliefs that tie into the narrative that they have chosen. As our previous examinations have illustrated, it is much easier to create an alternate reality if it uses the foundations of a belief that is already widely held. In the case of love jihad, that belief (or context) is that Muslims want to convert everyone to Islam.
Several campaigns are waged periodically to further strengthen people’s belief in this notion and it provides a solid foundation for the campaign of love jihad because it is already a widely held notion in India.
Campaign: Love Jihad—They’re Wooing Hindu Women in Order to Convert Them
By now, the conjurer has established the objective, the narrative and the context. The objective is to consolidate Hindus into a vote bank, the narrative selected is that of Hindus being under threat and the context is that Muslims want to convert everyone. Combining the three, several different campaigns could be designed. A conjurer could build a campaign claiming Muslims were kidnapping Hindu kids and raising them as Muslims in a secret madrasa; a campaign could be built claiming that Hindus in Muslim-majority areas were being forced to convert if they wanted to continue to live there; another potential campaign could be that Muslims were offering enticements in the form of cash or goods for conversions; or even something as absurd as Muslims kidnapping people across the country and forcing their entire families to convert in lieu of returning their loved ones.
Which specific campaign is chosen matters less than how well it is executed. In this instance, the campaign chosen was the one claiming that Muslim men were wooing Hindu girls and then getting them to convert before marrying them. The other hypothetical campaigns mentioned in the paragraph above might not sound hypothetical to many readers because all of them can be plausible in the current landscape. No evidence for any of these campaigns has been established anywhere by the governmental authorities, the party or this book.
Content: Specific Instances of Love Jihad or Forced Conversion
This is the part of the ON3C framework where the conjurer starts to face some scrutiny. The narrative is set through a campaign that is full of propaganda tools similar to the ones used by Edward Bernays to sell cigarettes to women in the early twentieth century. Loaded words, vague terms, endorsements by known faces and the bandwagon effect have all done their job. People have started to believe the claims that love jihad is widespread, even though no specific instance has been mentioned yet. Even empathy bias is in play, with fellow Hindus making vague claims that they know of several instances of love jihad all around them, without providing specific details on any of them.
This is where the Opposition and fact-checkers come into the fray to dispute these individual instances. They show proof that the video circulated is fake, or that the woman wanted to marry the man and always knew he was Muslim. The proof shown is incontrovertible, but alas, ineffective.
The fact that we don’t realize just how susceptible all of us are to the tools of a modern conjurer of alternate reality and our refusal to accept our innate human weakness are at the core of human susceptibility to these techniques. These tools become especially potent when we transform from individuals to being part of a larger crowd. The crowd that the modern propagandist cares about isn’t necessarily a physical crowd, it is a psychological crowd—a crowd that is formed when people are joined together by an idea, a cause or a set of beliefs.
This integration of people into virtual crowds has become more prevalent with the increased use of technology all around us.
Courtesy The Print