Ranjona Banerji: Putin can fly, Modi fights gators

Jan 25, 2017, 08:23 IST | Ranjona Banerji

Statutory warning: Any truth you think you know is liable to be false and all things unbelievable are but Alternative Facts. Go, Trump that!

A protester holds up a sign against US President Donald Trump in Chicago. Pic/AFP
A protester holds up a sign against US President Donald Trump in Chicago. Pic/AFP

Welcome to the world of Alternative Facts. It’s not a new world. It’s not a world we have never lived in before. Before the US reached it, some of us in other countries had our fill of it. But it is an apt new term for which many congratulations are in order for Kell­yanne Conway, adviser to the new US President Donald Trump. I am guessing many right-wingers all over the world, including those in our fine land, must be kicking themselves for not coming up with “Alternative Facts” themselves. Yes, we have accepted “post-truth” but it has a very academic, distant feel to it. George Orwell would have been proud of Conway.

Trump’s Alternative Facts are pretty cute so far. They demonstrate how the truly insignificant rules the collective interest: how many people attended his inauguration ceremony compared to that of his predecessor’s. In Trumpland, his was the biggest inauguration ever. In reality, the turnout was sufficient but modest compared to that for President Barack Obama. But, how dare! How can you suggest such a thing?

How dare you question whether the President of the United States should be bothered about something like crowd size? Isn’t that the most obvious and important subject? Size is everything for leaders who are full of themselves. And don’t we know it!

In India’s post-truth world, the approach is to manipulate crowd pictures by adding people into them and posting them on social media. It helps present an alternative fact for how else can you prove that a majority of identical twins did not attend a Narendra Modi election rally? This has been a very successful strategy in India so far.

Other methods are to morph the prime minister’s face on to the body of some hapless tea-seller to prove the PM was a tea-seller in his youth. And, if any evil non-Modi supporter puts up a photograph of empty chairs at the venue of a Modi rally, how hard is it to claim that the empty chairs are also Modi supporters?

The reigning emperor of this met­hod of life — of existing in an alternate reality — is Russian President Vladimir Putin. He grapples with bears and aeroplanes or something, rides bare-chested on horses across the Siberian Tundra and, we have no doubt, he flies around the planet at least once every single day putting out fires.

Admirers of the North Korean system of government may get very upset right about now — and many of them live permanently on social media for the express purpose of getting upset. But the sad non-alternative fact is that Kim Jong-un’s hairstyle precludes taking him seriously as a major ‘Alternativer’ despite his finger on the nuclear button. After all, Trump, Modi and Putin all have their fingers on this button. As does Pakistan and as will Marine Le Pen if she wins France.

Put all those names together and the idea of a parallel reality becomes so attractive. I make no statement on China because China is China. The good thing about “strong” leaders is that they are all the same. And the bigger the media gets, the more “alternative fact” they become. Left or Right makes no difference. I say this in the sense that Russia is possibly Left, or maybe Right, but Putin is certainly a Big Strong Leader who Grapples with Bears and Wins.

Modi as a child grappled with alligators and crocodiles and won. Kim Jong-un never lost against anything and Trump is the most powerful man in the whole world, but especially in the United States of America, which is the greatest country in the world with the greatest people, except that there may be other great people elsewhere in the world, as he said a couple of days ago. Trump is, therefore, also the best at adding a qualification to his sweeping claims. Some might argue that this does not quite put him in Putin or Modi’s category as neither admits to mistakes, errors or wrongdoings.

After all, when did you last hear the Indian prime minister expressing regret for the fact that people have been dying and suffering because of his demonic demonetisation debacle? PM Modi’s contention is that if anyone suffered, they did it happily, singing his praises all the way to their deathbeds. And all his supporters have applauded the scheme as they stepped over dead bodies on their way to their fancy cars.

Anyway, I just want to point out that I have written this from Mars.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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