Truth About UP’s Alt-Facts
For those obsessing about alt-facts — or the term ‘alternative facts’ coined by US President Donald Trump’s counsellor Kellyanne Conway while defending White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s allegedly trumped-up figures about the attendance in the president’s inauguration ceremony — why look so far away at the US? There is enough alt-facting happening in our own backyard — if you consider Uttar Pradesh your hinterland, that is.
But first, a bit of clarity about altfacts. While you are liable to be told that an alt-fact is a fancy word — ok, another word — for a lie, it could be considered as a fact being seen from a particular perspective that is not only hidden to you, but also something that you may be prejudiced against.
When, for instance, a person says ‘no’, it does mean no. But the remnants that you are left with — asking the person at a wedding meal one more time to have his second rasgulla after he has said no out of bashfulness could possibly swing a ‘yes’ — can provide you a clue about what alt-facts are.
One tricky thing about alt-facts is that they aren’t really provable or rebuttable. They are more like optical illusions that contain more than one image, like the picture by British cartoonist William Ely Hill (see picture) that shows both a giant-chinned saas and a pretty lady in profile. That ‘India is a poor country’, indeed, seems a fact. But once buttressed by the data that India has 84 dollar billionaires, as compared to Switzerland’s 32, the fact measured by the word ‘rich’ starts shimmering like a mirage.
So, in the context of Uttar Pradesh, the fact — alt or otherwise — is it’s that kind of election this time that no one knows what will be the outcome. Not Amit Shah, not Amit Shah’s driver or my favourite psephologist. And, since nature, especially of the speculative kind, abhors a vacuum, alt-facts swirl like the tornado from The Wizard of Awadh.
First, there’s the BSP story. Mayawati’s performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections — in which her party obtained no seat nationwide — still sets the template. But here are the theories, based on nothing more than thick air, about the BSP being the ‘dark horse’ that is hanging heavy across the UP air. One, the BSP voter is not being acknowledged in various pre-poll results surveys. He is a silent sort who won’t, even when asked, will say that he is voting for haathi (elephant, the party symbol), since his employer sitting in his charpoy a few metres away is in earshot. In any case, he is unlikely to trust a journalist, that too from Dilli.
Also, there’s an audibility bias. While the BJP — think Amit Shah telling this paper a few days ago that the BJP will win an absolute majority, and it can well do that — and the Samajwadi Party (SP) are most vocal in this election, the BSP has been cemeterylike silent. Which hardly means that Mayawati has rolled over and given the game away. It could mean, according to alt-fact reasoning, that the BSP has mobilised under the radar so as to avoid a counter-mobilisation, especially by the BJP.
It’s not too dissimilar from if you go to Delhi’s Khan Market to gauge the mood and chat up only People Like Us (PLU) and shop owners and miss out on PLU’s drivers and employees in the shops.
Also, no one really knows whether the Dalit vote that the BJP vacuumed up during the 2014 Modi wave — and there is no Modi wave in UP this time — will return ‘home’ this time. How long ago were the Budaun deaths for traditional BSP voters, made stark and symbolic by the image of two Dalit girls hanging like strange fruit from a tree in May 2014, we don’t know.
How far Gujarat’s July 2016 Una incident involving four Dalit men being stripped and flogged is for 2017 Uttar Pradesh, we also don’t know. Whether Hyderabad Central University PhD student Rohith Vemula’s suicide, who killed himself ‘for Dalit rights’ in January 2016, is too south for the north of the Vindhyas, again, we don’t know. All we know is that we will know what UP votes for on March 11. Altfacts rush in where angels fear to tread. They are not lies. They are just deductions made from perspectives that are impossible to prove or refute. So, when the UP results do arrive next month, it will be easy to confirm or deny these theories. The question will be whether these alt-facts will be confirmed or denied for the right reason. Trouble is, unlike logic as we know it, there is no right reason. And, in any case, the winner won’t care.
Everything is true: My Wife and My Mother-in-Law, W E Hill, 1915