Jaspreet Oberoi: The BJP Are Experts In Political Gaslighting 

PM Modi continues to use gaslighting to make Indian voters doubt their memory of his past actions, refute known facts and discard historical events

Jaspreet Oberoi
February 1, 2021 | 3.5 min. read

Since coming to power in 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India has led a vicious campaign of political gaslighting. 

In his book, State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind, psychologist Bryant Welch states, “Gaslighting comes directly from blending modern communications, marketing, and advertising techniques with long-standing methods of propaganda. They were simply waiting to be discovered by those with sufficient ambition and psychological makeup to use them”.

Gaslighting is further defined as an “insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation used to undermine the victim’s confidence in his ability to distinguish truth from falsehood thereby rendering him psychologically dependent on the gaslighter”. 

Prime Minister Modi continues to use gaslighting to make Indian voters doubt their memory of his past actions, refute known facts and discard historical events. His intent behind all of this has been to maintain a monopoly on “truth”.

Modi’s most widely employed strategy to suppress dissent has been to manufacture public opinion against the dissenters, thus obfuscating the real issue and reason behind the dissent. 

As one would imagine, this is not a small task to accomplish unless one has the means, the reach, and most importantly, the compliance of major actors in the ecosystem. Modi achieves this with much ease through his sympathizers and hardcore supporters in the media business, the Bollywood industry, and of course the social media community.

The modus operandi applied by Modi to stifle dissent has been apparent during the ongoing farmer protests in India. 

These protests which first broke out in the summer of 2020 and picked up real pace and vigor in the month of November are against the newly legislated farm laws. Though the laws apply to the whole country, the current state legislations make them most disruptive and economically devastating for the farmers in the northern states of India, namely Punjab, Haryana, UP, and Rajasthan.

Farmers from Punjab, who are mostly Sikhs, were the first ones to register their disapproval by blocking railroads in their own state for months. When nothing seemed to move the Modi government they decided to shift their protest site to the national capital. 

Sensing upcoming trouble for the government, team Modi kicked in. 

On Nov 28, Haryana’s BJP CM, Khattar, gave a sudden and unsubstantiated statement that the ongoing farmers’ protest has a Khalistani link. When asked for intelligence reports on it, he told the reporters that the proof will be provided soon, which to date has not been. Since then, multiple BJP MPs have issued statements calling the protestors terrorists and anti-nationals, like Jaskaur Meena and Satyadeo Pachauri. To amplify the narrative and maneuver the public opinion further, BJP’s national in-charge of  IT cell Amit Malviya tweeted the same. This is exactly how BJP’s propaganda machine works.

The next step in the process is for the compliant channels to pick the hint (and probably a phone call), drum up debates around the set narrative, and fill up the primetime slots. 

Everybody watching any one of the top TRP channels of India, i.e. Republic, India Today, Zee News, Times Now, and dozen others, are being forced daily to hear conspiracy theories and jingoistic statements filled with hate towards the protestors. The clauses of the farm laws in question are never discussed and all that the audience hears is how the protestors want to demolish India. Instead of focusing on the issue at hand and covering the protests on the ground, the saffronized editor desks of these channels continue to flame the ‘nationalist’ passions of the audience by playing random video clips found online and repeatedly focusing on the word “Khalistani”, which is treated as a synonym for “terrorist”.

Then comes the stage of muddying social media. 

Modi has garnered unconditional and unwavering support from a large section of Bollywood celebrities, who tend to be extremely influential and popular in India. While most of those celebrities express their support to him by staying silent (and thus complicit) on the excesses his government indulges in, few others come out unapologetically. For example, female actor Kangana Ranaut has been continuously parroting the Khalistani bogey and brandishing farmers as terrorists. She has tweeted doctored videos, morphed images, and twisted facts to her 3 million Twitter followers for years now.  Another ardent supporter of Modi, senior actor Anupam Kher is also a repeat offender and recently tweeted misrepresented facts to his 18.3 million followers, which ended up inciting violence against the protesting farmers.

The BJP government also has no qualms in shutting down Twitter accounts belonging to journalists and advocates, further cementing their grip on social media.

While the world has repeatedly made comparisons and drawn similarities between Trump and Modi, one often fails to notice the biggest difference. Trump did not have his country’s popular media, the judiciary, and the biggest social media influencers on his side, whereas Modi does. 

Will Modi supporters ever realize that they are being deceived and psychologically manipulated? As often is the case, it is not easy for the victims of gaslighting to figure it out.


Jaspreet Oberoi was born and raised in Patiala, Punjab, and currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He is a columnist focused on socio-political issues concerning India and Canada. You can find him on Twitter at @ijasoberoi.

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