It is not always the prerogative of journalists to be sought out by anonymous sources who pass on classified documents to them. Occasionally, we sleuths are also blessed with valuable information delivered to our doorstep. Last week, I got lucky when I discovered a packet in my mailbox with the Nietzschean doctrine, ‘There are no facts, only interpretations’ superscribed in bold on it.
For a moment, I was puzzled, and even suspicious. The identity of the sender or receiver was not mentioned. Moreover, I would have preferred some cryptic quote from Kant or Ian Fleming since they were two influences during my formative years in college other than Old Monk rum and iconic Amitabh Bachchan dialogues from the 1970s and 80s. Anyhow, given my disapproval of Nietzsche’s nihilism, my first instinct was to throw the packet into the pile of newspapers and books to be sold to the scrap dealer.
On second thoughts, I allowed curiosity to get the better of me. In retrospect, this was a wise move since consigning the packet to the care of the raddiwala would have been akin to 13th century monks scratching out a treatise on calculus by Archimedes to reuse the parchment to write Christian texts. Thankfully, modern imaging and digitisation helped recover the poorly erased original text and we now know that the discovery of calculus dates back to 3rd BC but had to wait until Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz independently cracked it again in the 17th century (or did Madhava and Nilankanta of the Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics trump them three centuries before that?). The debate on who owns the copyright on calculus is not one that will die down easily.
Of course, the packet that I found in my mailbox did not enclose a monograph or parchment detailing and defining a new stream of mathematics. Instead, it had a 40-page strategy paper titled “Governance and Managing Perceptions through Indoctrination and Re-education” prepared by the research team at the Geo Institute of Political Signs, an institution I had never heard of, although it boasted of “an international faculty of experts and academicians of repute in deception technology and diversionary mechanics”.
Changing weights and measures would be a masterstroke as big, if not bigger, than demonetisation. Just like the note ban, it should come as a jolt to the system and become effective overnight
I quickly flipped through the 40 pages of the treatise and concluded that I had what my journalist friends would call a scoop. Something that would make several people in the government sit up and take notice. But before proudly presenting it to my boss as the fruit of my ‘laboured’ investigations, I would have to confirm the existence of the Geo Institute and the authenticity of the research paper. One could never tell in this age of fake news if someone was playing a prank.
‘We are here and not here’
Enquiries with the Human Resources Development Ministry confirmed that Geo was indeed a registered organisation included in the list of “Institutes of Imminence” — or the ones that would be “opened shortly or in due course of time, whichever falls earlier”. It was also identified as a green field project since its proposed headquarters will be in a flat to be identified in Greenfield Colony, Sector 42, Faridabad (outside Delhi) and the Bengaluru campus in the Greenfield Township, Budigere. Geo also plans to open similar Green Field campuses across other metros over the next five years.
The HRD Ministry also helped by identifying the promoter of the Institute, Muktesh Mohan, and sharing his mobile number. When I called him and identified myself, I was effusively greeted by a gentleman in high spirits rather early in the evening. “Muktesh Mohan here, friends call me Micky, enemies rarely call me,” he said breaking out into spontaneous laughter. “I was waiting for your call Mr Shankar. What do you make of our research paper?”
I said I was impressed but had called to confirm the existence of the Institute and the report. “We are properly registered,” he said, a tad irritated. “We are in the HRD ministry’s list of Institutes of Imminence. You can check on that. In fact, we are in the same boat as the Jio Institute of the Ambanis – both of us are here and not here. But we are very much imminent.” He went on to assure me that an expert team had indeed put together the research paper he had specially sent me. However, since its members wished to be anonymous, till such time as they quit their present jobs, they had not been identified.
I thanked him for clearing my doubts and politely declined his invite to join him for a “Geo or piyo” session at his house that evening where he promised to serve the finest Scotch. To be honest, I was quite tempted to take up his offer but dropped the idea when I was told that dhoklas and bhelpuri would be the accompaniments.
Later, I pored over the report at home, making elaborate notes. And over the next three evenings, I distilled the 40 pages into a pithy 700-word report which I thought captured the essence of the Geo strategy paper. Here is what I took to the office:
Synopsis of research paper: Governance and Managing Perceptions - by Geo Institute of Political Signs
The 40-page report of great national importance highlights the following as essential to truth management:
Converting negatives into positives: Seeing the brighter side of darkness is the name of the game. For example, the recent fuel price hike can be presented as a clear positive for the economy. Facts and figures can be marshalled to conclusively prove how central and state revenues have gone up as a result of enhanced duties earned from diesel and petrol sales. It can also be argued that additional revenue inflow will eventually translate into higher government spend on social welfare schemes. Slogans like “You pay more, we spend more on you” can be effective in driving (or walking) the message home.
Additionally, the Vinod Rai Theory of Presumptive Loss and Gain - effectively used in exposing the 2G scam - can be employed to illustrate the humongous loss the national revenue would have incurred if crude prices had not gone up. Simultaneously, graphs and tables exposing the negative impact on revenues during the UPA regime caused by reduction of duties on diesel and petrol can be released through the media to create public awareness.
Also, taking a cue from the Daag acche hain (dirt and stains are good) Surf Excel commercial, the narrative can be built around how the spike in oil prices is, after all, a good thing. Ministers and senior leaders of the ruling NDA must issue periodic statements demanding further hike in international crude prices to boost the Indian economy.
Less can make things more: For the current purpose, the concept has nothing to do with minimalism in art but with weights and measures. Think of a scenario when, for example, a kilo is reduced by 500 grams and a kilometre by 500 metres. Once a policy decision is taken to introduce revised weights and measures, customers will ostensibly get 1.5kg for the price they paid for the old kilo (1000gms). In short, less would seem more since half kg would be the new 1kg. This will have far reaching consequences since more quantity under the revised weight can be bought per rupee than ever before. Similarly, mileage of cars will see an upswing as the kilometre becomes truncated.
In fact, changing weights and measures would be a masterstroke as big, if not bigger, than demonetisation. Just like the note ban, it should come as a jolt to the system and become effective overnight.
The spin-offs from such a move would be far reaching ahead of the 2019 polls. The government will finally be in a position to announce price cuts across the board. The forgotten din and spin about Acche din can be revived notwithstanding criticism from Harvard-educated economists and other anti-nationals. Less is more promises to be a winner.
Don’t change for change’s sake: Sometimes time-tested notions must be nurtured and exploited, not demolished. It’s common knowledge that ever since the advent of satellite television, suited-booted ladies and gents on prime time debates have been arguing on behalf of “we, the taxpayers.” Seeing them in action, the popular perception has taken root that it’s people like them (read income tax payees of the upper crust and the salaried class) who are made to pay for every wasteful government expenditure like financing institutions of the Jawaharlal Nehru University kind or providing subsidies for the poor.
Don’t uproot this impression. Don’t let it be known that the bulk of state revenues come from indirect taxes, i.e. the various duties, surcharges and cess that every citizen pays when he or she shops for essentials and life’s mundane luxuries like soap, toothpaste and clothes. No effort must be spared to project “We, the taxpayers” as a small band of people who pay income tax. The aam aadmi must be made to feel obliged to them for the largesse bestowed by the government.
Truth Management: Since truth is relative, don’t have any qualms about presenting your side of the truth even if it is an outright lie. Remember, good governance begins with a creative interpretation of reality. Of course, there will be those who argue that certain truths can’t be manipulated. For example, there can never be a square circle or a round square. But what happens if squares are renamed circles and vice versa? At the end of the day, it all boils down to words and what they mean or don’t. Control the vocabulary and you control reality and its depiction.
Afterword: You may wonder if I submitted the Geo Study and my synopsis to the boss? Well, I didn’t. Reason: I got a desperate call from Muktesh Mohan requesting me not to. “Shankar, some filmmakers want to turn it into an action thriller starring Akshay Kumar, Tiger Shroff and Alia Bhatt. Please don’t mess things up by handing it over to the government. Jio aur jeene do (live and let live),” he pleaded. I saw no reason to spoil his party.
(Imagined by Ajith Pillai)