Fake news, repeated often enough, could become the new default.
You can argue, with justification, that it doesn’t behove finance minister Arun Jaitley to be calling Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi a “clown prince”, but then was it right for the then Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi to call the then Gujarat chief minister—Narendra Modi—a “maut ka saudaagar”? With lots more such comments by everyone, including the prime minister, it is fair to say India’s politics seems to be plumbing to lower depths with each passing day. When the BJP was upset that the Congress was trying to reposition itself with Rahul Gandhi visiting one temple after another, it went so far as to say that he wasn’t actually at Kailash Mansarovar and was, in fact, putting out fake photographs to show that he was. One of the BJP’s media cells even tweeted to ask if he was really at Mansarovar and while the Congress reacted by putting out details of the trek as tracked by Fitbit, union minister Giriraj Singh went a step further and said the pictures were fake since there was no shadow of the cane being held by Rahul Gandhi. This set off another round of furious tweets and it was left to India Today to track the position of the sun at the time the picture was taken and to then point out that the cane’s shadow was subsumed in Rahul Gandhi’s shadow; though a part of the shadow of his finger could be seen on his jeans if you really looked closely…
If Gandhi was at the receiving end at that point, going by Jaitley’s Facebook post, he is making up for lost time. In one public function, Gandhi said that Vijay Mallya had met Jaitley in Parliament and told him he was going to London—that Mallya met Jaitley is a matter of record, the rest is not. At another function, Gandhi said Nirav Modi had also met Jaitley in Parliament to tell him he was going to London, and that this is something Jaitley himself had confirmed. Jaitley has said he has never met Nirav Modi in his life and, had the two met in Parliament, the records would show Modi had come to Parliament; also, he says, he has never spoken to Gandhi saying all that is being attributed to him.
But with the video having gone viral, Jaitley can deny the meetings till he is blue in the face, the damage has been done; more so since it is likely the charges will be repeated time and again. With the country getting deeper into election season, the innuendo will get worse, ensuring a faster descent to the bottom. It is not clear who is to stop the descent since each party’s justification is what the other is supposed to have said. Journalists and fact-checkers have a much greater responsibility than ever before to call out the half-truths but it is unlikely this will get re-tweeted as often or have the same elan as the half-truths.