Conspiracy theories have been a part of our culture for a little more than a century now. For some, they are a tool of comprehending the veiled reality which serves to provide an alternate explanation to any significant situation or event, for others, it might simply be about tracing lesser known parallels and patterns between seemingly unrelated ideas. While the earliest usage of the term dates back to the late 18th century, conspiracy theory as a concept gained momentum only in the later decades of the 19th century. While tracing the historiography and cultural usage of the concept, one cannot help but notice the swift transition that occurred in the very understanding of the nature of conspiracy theories. Till the middle of the 19th century, conspiracy theory as a term had a neutral, non-partisan connotation to it. It is interesting and quite amusing to observe that its understanding in a contrasting nature was triggered by a conspiracy theory itself, which was popularized in the 1960s. The theory stated that the term conspiracy theory was actually ‘invented by the CIA in order to prevent disbelief of official government stories.’
Whether the culture of conspiracy theories and its integration into the imagination of history buffs and pop culture enthusiasts stemmed from the above-said incident or not is rather unclear. But it did definitely spur a chain reaction of which we all are witnesses. Talking of the most recent conspiracy theories (and definitely the most tenable of the lot) was associated with the much talked about event in our own country, i.e. demonetization. The theory states that the The United States of America, in a bid to continue its hegemony and fight against the emerging world leaders like China and Japan, pressurized countries like India to demonetize their currencies and strip them off their cash supplies and monetary circulation. The theory becomes even more believable when one takes countries like Pakistan and Australia into the radar as well. Pakistan on the 19th of December, 2016 passed a resolution to demonetize the 5000 rupees note while Australia, just five days before Pakistan declared considering demonetizing the $100 bill in a statement.
Another conspiracy theory that made rounds within the conspiracy theory enthusiasts talks of what is known as the Mandela Effect. The Mandela Effect can be explained as a phenomenon in which a large number of people apparently misremember a past event, or it’s detailed; also known as confabulation. The name of the theory comes from many people feeling certain they could remember Nelson Mandela dying while he was still in prison back in the ’80s. Contrary to what many thought, Mandela’s actual death was on Dec. 5, 2013, despite some people claiming to remember seeing clips of his funeral on TV. Two major explanations behind the Mandela Effect have been put forward. One that claims that there exists a parallel world, and when this parallel world sometimes touches and merges with ours, it leaves behind things a little differently than they existed. The other explanation involves time travel, and how when someone travels across timelines, his or her actions cause certain distinct, but minute changes in how events actually happened.
To further elaborate on the Mandela Effect, a number of examples can be drawn upon–having been noted by not just the conspiracy theorists, but also common people around the world. We all remember watching Carrie Bradshaw and her sassy friends take on the world in the popular movie and TV series Sex in The City, right? Wrong. The series is apparently called Sex ‘and’ The City, not Sex in The City. The Mandela Effect in this instance has been proven by just about everyone, with countless people uploading their Sex ‘in’ The City merchandise online, proving the existence of the Mandela effect. Most of us also spotlessly remember the famous quote “Mirror mirror on the wall…” from Snow White and The Seven Dwarves. Much to our shock and dismay, the quote actually says “Magic mirror on the wall..” instead.
Moving on from the head-scratching reality of the Mandela Effect, the conspiracy theories regarding the presence of powerful secret societies like Illuminati and the Freemasons who covertly control the world have been in vogue for decades now. Another theory that states shape-shifting reptiles exist and control the humans through various techniques spread like fire in the previous year, which theorists explain by video documented evidence of many humans showing non-human like involuntary actions, mostly in the form of the sudden the emergence of the reptile eye while blinking or sudden unintended movement by one’s eyes. These reptilian humans are said to have controlled humankind since ancient times; they count among their number Queen Elizabeth, George W. Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton and even Hollywood pop stars like Rihanna and Justin Bieber. Many other theories concerning the supernatural and outer space such as the existence of UFOs and aliens having already penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere and the government of powerful countries being involved in its gigantic cover-up also did the rounds a couple of times, and the rumours do not seem to die down any time soon.
But frankly, none of these above-briefed theories manages to hit home as close as the one of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s alleged death does. The mystery of the events of his death have piqued the curiosity of millions and while the investigation on the last days of his life has come to a halt officially, the public eye remains in search for newer and unwonted explanations. Netaji was anything but a conformist, and hence immediately after his disappearance, the public did not accept his escape at its face value but believed it to be a cover-up for relaunching his struggle against the British and catching them off-guard. But the official version of his death crushed many of such aspirations. Netaji was reported to have suffered third-degree burns from a plane crash in Japan, which inevitably became the cause of his death. As simple as this explanation seems to be, it was faced with doubts and criticisms by Netaji’s followers from its very onset. Retd. Major General G.D. Bakshi in his book went as far as to claim that the whole string of events was a planned escapade for Netaji to retire in the Soviet Union. Furious, the British then plotted against Netaji, getting permission from Soviet authorities to interrogate him. And it was during this interrogation that, Bakshi alleges, Bose was tortured to death. Even Netaji’s lieutenants claimed that they never saw a body or photographs of him while being treated or post his death.
The Bose family further added fuel to the fire and continued to defy the official verdict of Netaji’s death for several decades by claiming that Netaji was in hiding for a greater cause and would soon reappear. As with most scenarios in India, the unknown came to be associated and closely intertwined with the religious and the spiritual. The subsets of this claim saw the rise of many theories in the form of Netaji being disguised in varying forms of spiritual authority in towns spread all over Northern India, i.e. for example, as a yogi in Bareily, as a sadhu by the name of Srimat Saradanandaji in an Ashram in Shalmauri, and the most popular of the lot, as Gumnami Baba in the town of Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh.
While the acceptance or rejection of these alternatives understandings of the world are, and will largely remain to be a personal choice based on one’s own thought process and already existing prejudices; it all boils down to an individual’s own willingness and daringness to go against his or her core notions and value-based system in search for the most plausible understanding of the truth. Personally, I endorse a sense of open-mindedness to the acceptance of divergent suppositions of events while ensuring a radical and a rather curious attitude in order to simply not be spoon fed and brainwashed by propaganda and the rise of fascism in media and journalism worldwide.
Chitra Rajpal is a 3rd year undergraduate student pursuing history. This social butterfly believes in seeing something good in everything. Leave it to her to suggest you great music. Her welcoming personality, positivity, and chatty nature define her best. She finds comfort in salads as her meals, loves to fangirl over John Mayer, and wants to pet every dog that she comes across.