India's Half-Democracy Finds a New Governance Tactic: Ardh Satya

Raghav's Take: Ardh Satya or half-truth has become the dodgy tactic of governance in our half-democracy.

4 min read

I was in my early 20s when I saw Ardh Satya (“Half-Truth”, 1983), a gut-wrenching Govind Nihalani film written by Vijay Tendulkar, starring consummate actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patil, Amrish Puri, and Sadashiv Amrapurkar (as a vindictive, petty politician). It was Om Puri’s debut film. He played a dreadfully honest cop who succumbs to the corruption and violence around him. The film ends in a brutal murder, but that “crime” is a half-truth, an evil-yet-compellingly-moral act, caught in the penumbra of right and wrong.

The film invokes the sheer perfidy of a half-truth, far more dangerous than a polarising lie or the irrefutable truth. Because the crevices of a half-truth can nourish innuendo, invective, smears, cruelty, hate—far more ambiguously, and therefore lethally—than the black-and-white of lies-and-truth.


Half-Truths Regarding Deaths in COVID-19 Pandemic's Second Wave 

I was reminded about Ardh Satya when the government made an astonishing assertion in parliament: “there were no deaths due to a shortage of oxygen in the second wave of the pandemic”.

Speaking extremely narrowly, exceedingly technically, the government could be right, because every patient is in a hospital for a specific morbidity, say COVID-19 or cancer, or lung infection. Nobody is there because he wants to “inhale oxygen”, which may be a fad but not an illness. So, when the poor chap dies because of a sudden disruption in oxygen supply, you would expect the hospital to issue a death certificate recording that “the patient suffering from Covid or cancer or lung infection died at xyz hours on abc date”.

But we all know that is a devastating ardh satya, a half-truth. The whole country has seen horrible pictures of gasping patients, helpless doctors, screaming/desperate relatives, serpentine queues of corpses outside crematoria.

Unfortunately, this ugly testimony has fallen into the crevices of half-truths, of an abbreviated death certificate which perhaps does not have a column for “oxygen shortage”.

Pegasus Hacking and Government's Half-Truths

I guess ‘tis the season of half-truths because the government will not tell us whether it is the proud owner of Pegasus or not. It’s a simple yes/no answer, but cabinet ministers are using excessive verbiage to mouth, well, a series of clever dodges or half-truths.

“We ain’t done the hack” is their response when the question is “are you one of the vetted governments which has bought this sophisticated hacking spyware from Israel? What about The New York Times report, citing an NSO source, that India is one among six buyers?”

“These are foreign forces trying to smother our progress” is their rote, repeated refrain when the question is “if a videshi shakti (foreign power) is snooping on our key ministers/politicians/officials/journalists.

Why aren’t you moving heaven and earth to nab the culprit?

What’s more, the biggest casualty is the French President and 14 cabinet ministers, so India was not the primary target, right?

In any case, what would a diabolic foreign power gain by hacking the phone of the poor lady who accused India’s chief justice of sexual harassment? Or go after Rahul Gandhi’s friends instead of targeting India’s Prime Minister, Home Minister, and Defence Minister?”


Tactical Deflection of Uncomfortable Questions

“But Amnesty has already denied that such a list is authentic” is an ingenious catapult when the question is “how can you accuse over a dozen foreign publications of creating a “chronology” to disrupt the monsoon session of India’s Parliament when the event is not even on their calendar?”

“The Congress Party wants to thwart our forward march, it’s aligned with anti-India forces” is the stock whiplash when the question is “why aren’t you setting up a crack investigation team to prise apart this utterly criminal conspiracy, since hacking is completely illegal under our laws?”

So, you must hand it to the government for remarkably consistent tactics – just deflect one unanswerable question after another with a barrage of unrelated half-truths, because innuendo, invective, and smears glide so easily into the crevices of ardh satya.

India's Vaccination Drive and a Slew of Half-Truths

India’s vaccination “facts”, unfortunately, have become the most destructive half-truths of all times. Around Independence Day last year, ie 15 August 2020, the country was assured that we were on top of our vaccination strategy. Exactly 140 days later, we learnt that no order had been confirmed, even for a single vial, as the vaccination drive was about to commence a fortnight later.

Then we were told that all frontline workers and senior citizens – about 300 million of them – would be fully vaccinated by July 2021. As we stand today, less than a third of that target has been achieved.

Next, we were told that every resident adult would be fully vaccinated by December 2021, a target which required a daily average of 10 million doses, but we are struggling at under 4 million right now.

Finally, the government gave such inconsistent answers in a single day in Parliament that even the half-truths were confronted by new half-truths. In one response, Covishield’s monthly capacity was 110 mn, in another it magically became 130 mn. The “true” numbers around Covaxin’s monthly capacity were even more brazenly unpredictable – moving from 25 mn to 17.5 mn to 20 mn to 55 mn to 80 mn.

What can one say here? What happens when one half-truth is multiplied by three other half-truths? Mathematically, it becomes one-by-six-hundred-and-twenty-fifth-truth (ie, 1/625-truth)!

I rest my case on how Ardh Satya has become the dodgy tactic of governance in our half-democracy.

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