Sunday 1 March 2020

2024 (With Apologies to George Orwell's "1984")

2024 (With Apologies to George Orwell's “1984”)

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 01 March, 2020


The following passage is taken almost verbatim from George Orwell’s “1984,” pages 12-17, with just a few details edited to make it relevant to India in the 21st century. It is scary how well Orwell’s template fits India in 2020. I have deliberately kept my changes to a minimum, mostly involving changing of names and adding small details to give the passage a 21st century Indian context. Otherwise the words are exactly as George Orwell wrote them 71 years ago.

It should be noted that 1984 was a political satire of its times; and so is this recasting of this passage into 2020s India. It is what I think can happen in a few years time, and therefore is a projection of the future. But I think any reasonable person who sees the news headlines realizes that this projection is not far from the truth. Many of our friends and relatives already think like the protagonist below and, as the Delhi violence and its aftermath are showing, many more are daily getting brainwashed and converted to hate. Ministers spew hate in public; ministers garland murder convicts; and there is little outcry and little action, legal or otherwise, taken against such offenders. So I do not think what you will read below is far from what can happen in a few years.

The Two-Minutes Hate

It was nearly eleven hundred, and in the Records Department, where Onkar Singh worked, they were dragging the chairs out of the cubicles and grouping them in the center of the hall, opposite the big telescreen, in preparation for the Two Minutes Hate…

The next moment, a hideous, grinding speech, as of some monstrous machine running without oil, burst from the big telescreen at the end of the room. It was a noise that set one’s teeth on edge and bristled the hair at the back of one’s neck. The Hate had started.

As usual, the face of Nehru, the Enemy of the People, had flashed onto the screen. There were hisses here and there among the audience. The little saffron-clad woman gave a squeak of mingled fear and disgust. Nehru was the renegade and backslider who once, long ago (how long ago, nobody quite remembered), had been one of the leading figures of the evil Congress, almost on the same level as Bade Bapu (Big Daddy) today, and then had engaged in anti-national and counter-Hindu activities for all the 17 years that he ruled Bharat. This was before the birth of Bade Bapu, who would never have allowed a traitor like Nehru to become PM of Bharat one day.

The program of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Nehru was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of Bharat’s purity. All subsequent crimes against the country, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other, his descendants and followers were hatching conspiracies; perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of foreign paymasters; perhaps even — so it was occasionally rumoured — in some hiding place in Bharat itself.

Onkar’s diaphragm was constricted. He could never see the face of Nehru without a painful mixture of emotions. It was the handsome face of a Kashmiri Pandit, with the traditional white cap of the Congress — a clever face, and yet somehow inherently despicable …

The telescreen changed from Nehru’s face to that of his great-grandson, Rahul Gandhi, who was delivering his usual venomous attack on the doctrines of the Bharatiya Janata Party (or, as it was known in 2024, just “The Party,” as all other parties had been outlawed) — an attack so exaggerated and perverse that a child should have been able to see through it, and yet plausible enough to fill one with an alarmed feeling that other people, perhaps less level-headed than oneself, might be taken in by it. He was abusing Bade Bapu, he was denouncing the dictatorship of the Party, he was demanding the immediate conclusion of peace with Pakistan, he was advocating freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought, he was crying hysterically that the idea of India had been betrayed — and all this in rapid polysyllabic speech which was a sort of parody of the habitual style of the orators of the Party, and even contained shuddh Hindi words; more shuddh Hindi words, indeed, than any Party member would normally use in real life.

And all the while, lest one should be in any doubt as to the reality which Rahul’s specious claptrap covered, behind his head on the telescreen there marched the endless columns of the Pakistani and Chinese armies — row after row of solid-looking men with expressionless faces, who swam up to the surface of the screen and vanished, to be replaced by others exactly similar. The dull, rhythmic tramp of the soldiers’ boots formed the background to Rahul’s bleating voice.

From time to time, other hated critics of the regime, such as Kanhaiya Kumar and Arvind Kejriwal, had their faces projected on screen, and a harsh voiceover shouted, “Bharat tere tukde honge, insha Allah, insha Allah!” (“India, you will be torn to bits, Allah willing.”) At another point, faces of familiar opponents of the party and enemies of Hinduism, such as Shashi Tharoor and Mamata Banerjee, and intellectuals such as Amartya Sen, Raghuram Rajan, and Romila Thapar were flashed with a loud shout from the telescreen background, “Desh ke gaddaaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko.” (“Shoot the traitors to the country.”)

Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room. The self-satisfied sheeplike face on the screen and the terrifying power of the Pakistani and Chinese armies behind it were too much to be borne; besides, the sight or even the thought of the Nehru-Gandhi family, to which both Nehru and Rahul belonged, produced fear and anger automatically. They were objects of hatred more constant than China or Pakistan.

But what was strange was that, although Nehru and his followers were hated and despised by everybody; although, every day, and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreens, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were; in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes waiting to be seduced by him and his philosophy. A day never passed when spies and saboteurs acting under the directions of the Congress were not unmasked by the Thought Police. The Congress commanded a vast shadowy army, an underground network of conspirators dedicated to the overthrow of the State. The Brotherhood, its name was supposed to be. There were also whispered stories of a terrible book, a compendium of all the heresies, of which Congress leaders and others like Kanhaiya Kumar were the authors and which circulated clandestinely here and there. It was a book without a title. People referred to it, if at all, simply as the book. Neither The Brotherhood nor the book was a subject that any ordinary Party member would mention if there was a way of avoiding it.

In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddeningly bleating voice that came from the screen. The little saffron-clad woman had turned red, and her mouth was opening and shutting like that of a landed fish. The dark-complexioned girl behind Onkar had begun crying out “Swine! Swine! Swine” and suddenly she picked up a heavy Shuddh Hindi dictionary and flung it at the screen. It struck Rahul’s nose and bounced off; the voice continued inexorably. In a lucid moment, Onkar found that he was shouting with the others and kicking his heel violently against the rung of his chair. The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds, any pretense was unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.

The Hate rose to its climax. The voice of Rahul had become an actual sheep’s bleat, and for an instant the face changed into that of a sheep. Then the sheep-face melted into the figure of the Chinese soldier who seemed to be advancing, huge and terrible, his submachine gun roaring and seeming to spring out of the surface of the screen, so that some of the people in the front row actually flinched backwards in their seats. But in the same moment, drawing a deep sigh of relief from everybody, the hostile figure melted into the smiling face of Bade Bapu, be-spectacled, white-bearded, full of power and mysterious calm, and so vast that it almost filled up the screen. Nobody heard what Bade Bapu was saying. It was merely a few words of encouragement, the sort of words that are uttered in the din of battle, not distinguishable individually but restoring confidence by the fact of being spoken. Then the face of Bade Bapu faded away again, and instead the slogans of the Party stood out in bold capitals:


(“Say proudly that you are a Hindu”)


(“Good days have arrived!”)


(“Shoot the traitors to the country”)


(“Hindustan (India) is for Hindi-speaking Hindus! Muslims, go to Pakistan!”)

But the face of Bade Bapu seemed to persist for several seconds on the screen, as though the impact that it had made on everyone’s eyeballs was too vivid to wear off immediately. The little saffron-clad woman had flung herself forward over the back of the chair in front of her. With a tremulous murmur that sounded like “My Saviour!” she extended her arms toward the screen. Then she buried her face in her hands. It was apparent that she was uttering a prayer.

At this moment, the entire group of people broke into a deep, slow, rhythmic chant of “Mo-di!… Mo-di!… Mo-di!” over and over again, very slowly, with a long pause between the “Mo” and “di” — a heavy, murmorous sound, somehow curiously savage, in the background of which one seemed to hear the stamp of naked feet and the throbbing of tom-toms. For as much as thirty seconds they kept it up. It was a refrain that was often heard in moments of overwhelming emotion. Partly it was a sort of hymn to the wisdom and majesty of Bade Bapu, but still more it was an act of self-hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness by means of rhythmic noise.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.


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