Truth About UP’s Alt-Facts

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - In­dra­jit Hazra

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

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