Siddhartha Chatterjee
Rhetorical Swiss-Knives : Part 2
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

Conspiracy Theory

At first glance, there was nothing wrong with that man in the village. He was a Panchayat member from a political party that long earned the fearful acronym “the party”. He was a dedicated worker who actually believed in the regular propaganda that is distributed in the name of “cause” from the state HQ in Kolkata, a family man and a decent neighbor which is quiet an achievement as his party ran the rural Bengal by employing “cadre” of of the kind that you do not want to invite for an afternoon tea. When it came to world affairs, he perceived himself to be an expert. This would not have been so bizarre had he not claimed that CIA kept a file on him. When I was a teenager, me and my friends made fun of his strange belief, but recently I heard about the very tragic end of this man’s life. His paranoia grew to the point he refused to drink water fetched by his own son. The man clearly needed help at an early age, but one of the successes of the left is to convince many delusional paranoid that they are actually pretty normal. From the paranoid who believed that he was on CIA’s watch-list to the genocidal maniac who believed “one death is a tragedy, a million death is a statistic”, the consequence of these little tragedies are sometimes too big to ignore. That said, I sometimes wonder what is in left’s world-view that it encourages paranoids and psychopaths that much?

When Web 2.0 took off, internet was suddenly filled with numerous blogs, forums etc. Gone were the days of BBS, yahoo groups or google groups. For a brief period, some of us hoped that internet will make information sharing easy and it will open newer frontier in terms of discussion and engagement. We forgot that internet users are parts of the society, when they come to the keyboard they come with all the baggage society managed to fill them with already. Therefore, you can have m number of sites explaining the scientific cause of eclipse, but then you will have n number of sites explaining how it is all a conspiracy to keep public from knowing “real truth” whatever that may be. For other cosmic conspiracy theories, I recommend Flat earth forum. From small hoaxes like Chinese-made counterfeit eggs to the big claims like all-politicians-are-reptile-aliens-from-another-plane, internet is a vast market for conspiracy theories. But, in my experience most Indians dont believe in those larger-than-life conspiracy theories. But the belief in smaller conspiracies in Indian society boggles my mind. From halls of academia to pages of media, there are various conspiracy theories that we have taken for granted. Internet is not changing this trend. In most cases, it is reinforcing strange beliefs we are already told to believe.

Take CIA for an example. It is one of the most well-funded and one of the most resourceful counter-intelligence agencies in the world. Now, take a look at the huge list of it’s failures, now ask a question: did the American taxpayer got their money’s worth? How successful is a covert agency if almost everyone knows what they do? In terms of executing subversion, a KGB or ISI is far more successful. In terms of secrecy, Chinese are far more successful, most of us even dont know if they have a separate espionage agency or not. The point is that, democracies dont do secrecy/espionage thing well. The very checks and balances that make a democracy successful make it very difficult to keep state secrets safe. Wikileaks shows how easy it is to leak state secret if one does not care about the aftermath. Dictatorships, on the other hand, trumps democracy when it comes to keeping secrets and building intelligence arm. Under the benevolent eye of a subversive dictatorship, an espionage agency can easily create a state within state. But you need to tell that to the lefty worthies in our media and academia. Most of our generation is too young to remember how our lefty media invented the news that disease of AIDS is manufactured by USA to kill the communists and the third world. It is remarkable how quickly they turned around and disowned the story when that stinky paper bomb blew on their face. Srimati Indira Gandhi took this CIA paranoia to the ultimate height. At the very moment dollar-filled briefcases from KGB office in Delhi were sent daily to the members of politician-media-academia nexus (this is not a conspiracy theory, refer to a book on Mitrokhin archive) , she was suspecting people in her government and close circle to be hand in glove with CIA. The creation of CIA strawman helped Indian government and sympathetic left fellow travelers to disown every governance/military/intelligence failure and blame it on CIA. For a concise example of blaming the policy/intelligence failure, consult our ex-Intelligence head B Raman’s book Kaoboys of RandAW where he puts blame of every single policy failure to CIA in nearly every chapter. In contrast, if one reads ex-intelligence officer MK Dhar’s Open Secrets or first IB head BN Mullik’s My years with Nehru, they made no effort to hide the glaring policy failure or try to clean the image of political leadership. Today CIA is probably more associated with post-independence Indian history than it is associated with American foreign policy. But this is just one example in the long list.

Let me start with a quote:

…the bureaucracy with people who are evangelically committed to the corporate takeover of everything—water, electricity, minerals, agriculture, land, telecommunications, education, health

To be honest, Arundhati Roy will be Arundhati Roy. People like you or me do not come from who’s who of Indian left or do not win a prize in the name of a rabid capitalist (who owes his fortune to use of bonded labor) for a third class novel and then scream against corporates. What we can do is to wonder who this “corporate” entity is and why is it so hellbent on taking over “everything”? Is there such an organization where hooded men join together in a meeting in an underground bunker where entry is protected using a common sounding password (or worse, biometry)? Or do they travel to a ship on international waters to topple a government (socialist or communist ones, others don’t count) in a setting that befits a James Bond movie? We are not told. But taking over everything is not easy, is it? As we look into Rahul Gandhi’s struggle to take over a “banana republic” full of “mango people” who are prepared to vote for him generations after generations despite the fact that nothing is done for them, we are reminded that taking over everything is a huge enterprise of nearly unfathomable complexities. We were given big bad fuzzy entities like “corporate”, “oppressive forces” and “fascist power” who are pure evil reincarnate. Who are the princes in shining white armor? It must be those on Arundhati’s side: International NGOs, media manipulators, rent-a-cause intellectuals from international lecture circuit, separatists, profiteers of human rights industry.

In our childhood, grandmotherly figures used to tell us about the fantasy stories where charming handsome princes used to kill demons to rescue princesses or their own parents. That tradition may have been lost in the age of small families, video games and cable tv. That is not the point however. As we grew up, we tried to match those simple stories against the real world. Part of the reasons growing up is a painful process because those simple narratives do not live up to the complexities of the world. Figuratively speaking, those charming prince look-alike seem to have a deal with the devil, beautiful princess look-alike appear to be more interested to hook up with dangerous bad boys than being rescued from them and those who look like heroes from one angle looks like villains from another. This is the twilight zone modern civilization often lands us into. In left’s world-view that so strongly relies on black-or-white mode of thinking, there is no answer for this twilight zone. The simper narrative that relies on stereotype straw-figures like CIA/corporate/fascist etc is alluring to the teenagers and students because they just began to deal with the real world. Eventually, most of them grow out of it. That is why the famous saying about being a communist at 20 and leaving communism at 40 is so popular.

But jokes aside, corporate greed is no laughing matter. There were many cases of the corporate greed in every country. But so are the cases of political greed and government greed. But, interestingly, no one calls for “occupying” parliament or president’s house. Corporates, like government or media, is part of the society, more corrupt the society is, more corrupt it’s organs become. Can it be possible for all corporations to join together and take over everything? In my first job, in a public sector project, the top boss told us an important tip: IAS basically means Indian Arrogance Service. Each new “offsar” thinks he is the best deal India got. Therefore, success and profit in executing a public sector project solely depends on project manager’s ability to feed the new demigod’s super-size ego. This is somewhat true in private sector as well. Middle managers and technical experts, two tribes I have to deal with on a daily basis, often declare cold war over each other and sometimes among themselves. These people are hired by their employer to make money and they would not leash their ego to co-operate even when co-operation is the only way. Now, imagine a group of super-rich people with egos that can only match the size of their bank accounts and prejudices against each other they earned during their life-long quest for profit together in a room trying to hatch conspiracies to take over rest of the world. How would that play out? Assuming that my reader is not thinking this in a pot-smoke-filled room in an university campus, what probability would he/she assign to the outcome that such people would agree to a secret scheme and secretly direct their great resources without anyone noticing?

So why is it that we Indians are so addicted to these conspiracy theories? One may blame lefty-dominated education system but that does not explain the popularity of CIA myth or big bad “corporate” myth among semi-literate or illiterate population. In my view, it is probably the lack of trust with position of power or wealth. A society which saw nearly 1000 year long brutal colonial rule may experience natural lack of trust with position of authority. Just because people called government as “Sarkar mai baap” does not mean that they really got to experience a very cordial relationship with this mythical mai-baap. None of the parties in control of government made any effort to restore citizen’s trust in the government. So is the case with industrial sector which is very much tradition/family dominated and very opaque in terms of decision making. Even worse, neither private or public sector is very open in their functioning. Given that condition, it is not surprising that people will assume worse with position of power or wealth. Whatever they dont get to hear or see is filled with imagination. An old friend in the village asked me how many parties I enjoyed in “phoren”. Poor me! I had a hard time convincing him that only parties I can ever remember are the ones where worse possible vice was alcohol. He thought every one working in “phoren” company gets to enjoy some rave parties where drugs and ladies from house of ill-repute are the norms. Left’s toxic conspiracy theories take shape and mutate in this fertile ground of imagination and shape a very twisted and distorted world view that many of my co-citizens share.