Of truth & lies


Moa Jamir


Politicians and lies are intimate bedfellows


‘All Politicians Lie. Some Lie More Than Others,’ read a cheeky headline in The New York Times in December 2015. The article by Angie Drobnic Holan, a political fact-checker, was commenting on antics of politicians in the primaries to US Presidential Election.


Citing more than two decades of studies by different researches, on the subject, an April 2016 article by The Associated Press concluded that “Everyone lies, but scientists say politicians lie the most.”


“We all stretch the truth. We learned to deceive as toddlers. We rationalize our fabrications that benefit us. We tell little white lies daily that make others feel good. Now magnify that. Politicians distort the truth more often, use more self-justifications and deceive in larger ways, and with more consequences, experts in psychology and political science say,” the article noted.


Politicians “convince themselves that the ends justify the means” and “the reasons they are doing it are more important,” Jennifer Mercieca, a professor of communications told the news agency. In an influential essay in The New Yorker titled ‘Truth and Politics,’ philosopher Hannah Arendt argues, “Lies have always been regarded as necessary and justifiable tools not only of the politician’s or the demagogue’s but also of the statesman’s trade…”


Last week, Nagaland Chief Minister TR Zeliang made an extraordinary claim during a flood review meeting. According to a PTI News Agency report, he told the meeting that Nagaland has lost 18 people and “around six lakh people were affected” by the flood. The general public, or even the state media, were not aware of that many tragedies.


Further, like a mighty illusionist, he created 6000 flood affected villages in Nagaland. As per the Census of India 2011, Nagaland has 1428 villages, 26 towns and 7 Census towns, a figure most recently quoted in the Government of Nagaland’s ‘Vision 2030’ document.


Such tactics has become modus operandi for politicians, and by extension the government and its machineries, over the years with the notion that “ends justify the means.”


For instance, June 2016 was an extraordinary period in the annals of governance in Nagaland. The Minister of School Education called for cracking the whip on substitute teachers; the Minister for Health & Family Welfare urged doctors to serve the underprivileged and under-served areas; and the Secretary for Land Resources Department called for reviving communitisation process for better delivery of public welfare services.


Most importantly, when the Government (Personnel & Administrative Reforms Department) office memorandum (OM) dated June 6, 2016, ‘once again’ issued a circular banning all ad-hoc/casual/temporary/work-charged appointments, it was déjà vu. Only in February 2015, the then State Chief Secretary had issued a similar circular. Lip-servicing against corruption and procedure to weed out bogus or unauthorized employees are initiated regularly. The most recent writ petition filed in High Court alleging the violation of the 2016 OM has shattered the halo.


There are two kinds of lies that corrupt public discourse – one that is intended to deceive and the other that is intended to be recognised as a lie, opined a Guardian editorial in January 2017. The latter is much more dangerous as it carries an unambiguous message about pure power, it noted. “The speaker can force the listener to repeat it and thus to lie too.”


Two things can be inferred from here. Lying has become a necessity to achieve certain objectives. For instance to get more funds in the case of the Chief Minister or to lull public discontent in the case of the OM.


In such a scenario, dishonesty becomes contagious and continues unchecked with impunity. In Nagaland, one can lie with impunity. Whether it is benefiting the society is anybody’s guess.


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