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Power over opinion: Doval’s old speech highlights the nature of the ‘information war’ we see today

It is easy to make out a case for the view that opinion is omnipotent, and that all other forms of power are derived from it. Armies are useless unless the soldiers believe in the cause for which they are fighting, or, in the case of mercenaries, have the confidence in the ability of their commander to lead them to victory.

Law is impotent unless it is generally respected. Economic institutions depend upon the respect for law; consider, for example, what would happen to banking if the average citizen had no objection to forgery. Religious opinion has often proved itself more powerful than the State. If, in any country, a large majority were to favour socialism, capitalism would become unworkable. On such grounds, it might be said that opinion is the ultimate power in social affairs. 

Bertrand Russel in his book ‘Power’

Media’s ability shape public opinion with one-sided narrative is a potent power

We usually underestimate the power wielded by the press and journalists. The nature of power held by academicians and ‘intellectuals’ is also considered milder in comparison to that of army commanders or bureaucrats because the latter has the authority to take decisions that lead to action. This is a misconception because, actions are a result of thoughts and ideas which are controlled by academicians, intellectuals and journalists.

‘Power over opinion’, as described by Russel is gaining more importance every day as the internet/media reaches more people. Cambridge Analytica perhaps is the most sophisticated attempt is turning ‘power over opinion’ into a potent weapon. Even without it, the nature of discourse in media is good enough for a serious assessment.

In the secular-liberal section of media, the assault on public opinion is at least a thousand times stronger over a Muslim death in comparison to the death of a Hindu in any significant piece of news. Shaming of majority religion is done without any fear, whereas minorities are always shielded from public opinion entirely. Shaming of Hindus in the aftermath of Kathua rape case is another important example. Words like ‘Hindustan’ and ‘Devi-sthan’ were used remorselessly to target Hindus. On the other hand, crimes of minorities are whitewashed or downplayed in media. The recent attempt to whitewash the Kashmiri Pandit exodus as a voluntary migration is a classic example.

Self-proclaimed academic Audrey Truschke is another example. When people criticise Hindu gods as a ‘misogynist pigs’ they become intellectuals. When cartoonists portray Prophet Muhammed in a cartoon they get shot down. This demonstrates, that Islam has a control over thoughts of its followers as well as bystanders whereas Hinduism has none of it. In fact, Hindus embrace insults and take pride in shaming Hinduism themselves under the guise of ‘freedom of expression’. How did we get there? The roots of this imbalance can be traced to 200 years of British rule that succeeded in colonising the Hindu mind.

Information wars are a key component of civilisational wars

This assault on ideas/ opinions/ civilisations is not a short-term project, but a part of a long-term propaganda war. It is usually irreversible. The current NSA Ajit Doval had deconstructed this phenomenon in a speech delivered at Mumbai in 2015. While delivering the Lalit Doshi Memorial Lecture, Doval highlighted the paradigm shift in the nature of wars fought today. The transcript of the lecture dealing with the topic is reproduced below [From 22:30] (emphasis added):

Earlier the statecraft was more confined to the question of wars. The rules of wars were made, the Vienna convention was made, what are the permissible type of weapons which can be used, what is the type of the mines that can be laid and not can be laid, prisoners of war, all these things have been settled to the large extent. But the days of statecraft through wars is coming almost to an end. War is no more an effective instrumentality of achieving your political and strategic objectives in a cost-effective way.

There’s no guarantee that a very powerful nation with a huge arsenal, with a huge economy with a huge intelligence capability, with great scientific props would be able to subdue even a small group of the terrorists whether it’s a Federal state in Vietnam or Soviet in Afghanistan. 

So people are increasingly thinking that probably it is not, the most effective way. You are not able to achieve your strategic objective through the mechanism of war. That has evolved into the statecraft, the other institutions, or the other props of the statecraft becoming quite important. in any case like Roger’s theory about the morality of the war itself has brought into the focus, and even most of the countries which are engaging in war have found it that it is an unaffordable diplomatic cost for them to sustain that.

So in this background, no instrumentality like diplomacy, intelligence, perception management, media, use of soft power, influencing the minds of the people, that have become new instruments of the statecraft. In a way have you ever wondered why the Americans decided to support the Islamic gun wielding irregulars against a regular Soviet Army? It had many options. When the Soviets made an entry to Afghanistan they could have taken them militarily, they could have done an economic blockade, they could have done at UN security council, they could have passed any resolution against them. They could have tried all means which are available to greater powers in the world. But it resorted to the entirely different mechanism. That was the mechanism of the covert war.

That is the proxy war you are fighting against someone using somebody else’s manpower, using somebody else’s weapon. You fly the weapons from Egypt which are of the Russian origin, send it to Peshawar and then distribute it to Mujaheddins and then send it to Afghanistan because they found that the other means of the statecraft were unaffordable against the country which has the great strategic weapons strength. Now that is the dilemma. That this is statecraft, wars is more transparent but wars through other means are much more dicey and much more difficult to handle. This proxy war, this covert wars, espionage, sabotage, subversion, influencing the minds of the people seating in this hall.

If I can make all of you think the way that I want to think and behave I wield a power over you. The real power in the coming times will not be invaded by those people who are going to have control over your labs, or over the technology, or over the means of production, or over the wealth. It will be wielded by people who can make you think the way that is in their interest. If I want you to buy a product and you buy that, I control your minds. If I want you to hate everything that is Indian, I want you to be ashamed of your culture and civilization. And if I achieve that, I win the battle. If you resist it and you are not able to do this thing, you win the battle.

This is the battle of civilization, a battle of culture, basically the battle of minds. It is all by exercising through the soft powers. And statecraft has got thus a new instrumentality.”

Information wars that affect India in short term and long term need to be fought actively

Therefore governments, strategists and nationalists must be ready for this battle over opinions and ideas. For they are more potent than AK-47s or ICBMs in the long run. Pro- Pakistani/Pro-China articles are not written for the sake of pissing off RSS/BJP. They are written to colonise the Indian mind on Pakistan/China-related issues.

Scholarly work that depicts Hinduism in a bad light is not done for cheap thrills. It is written in order to aid evangelists/conversion factories. How? Once people lose contact with your own culture, others can occupy that void.

Every propaganda war that is antithetical to Hindu values/ integrity of India is funded by vested interests. Therefore, there is a dire need to correct/fight the deliberate bias in the media discourse. Simultaneously, there is a need to preserve the ideals transmitted from generation to generation though great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Nationalists should also ensure that the history and its interpretation does not get watered down in a way that absolves some religions from their atrocities. If we have to defend the ethos, integrity and culture of our motherland there is a dire need to fight those who stand opposed to Hindu values of India.

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