"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it," says a statement attributed to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels. Someone in the ruling dispensation in Odisha appears to have taken the advice too seriously, as is evident from the incessant peddling of a big lie by the government and the ruling party leaders over the last few days: that the Birsa Munda hockey stadium in Rourkela is 'the biggest' in the world. A simple fact-check on the internet would reveal that forget being ‘the biggest in the world’, it is not even the biggest in India!
At the top of the list is the National Hockey Stadium in Lahore in Pakistan with a seating capacity of 45000, followed by the Chandigarh Hockey Stadium in India with a capacity of 30000. Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium, with a seating capacity of 20000+ comes fourth, after the Weingart Stadium in Los Angeles, USA (22,355).
So, how did Birsa Munda become 'the world’s biggest'? Since no answers are forthcoming from the government, one of two assumptions can be made. One, it does not really have an answer. And two, it defines ‘biggest’ by some criterion other than what the rest of the world knows it by; namely, the seating capacity. As someone commented on Facebook, the state government considers Birsa Munda stadium the 'biggest' in terms of area, given that it has a sports village complex, a second astro turf for practice and other amenities. If that is the case, the government must come out and say so. If it doesn’t, it would only help strengthen the suspicion that the first assumption is the correct one.
There is absolutely no doubt that the Odisha government deserves all the praise for building such a large stadium from scratch in less than two years' time. Getting a stadium of such proportions (even if not the 'biggest' in the world) up and running in such a short time is a monumental achievement that the government – and everyone concerned – can be justifiably proud of. But the government should not be claiming credit where none is not due. It would not have been such a big issue had some minor minion committed the faux pas. But when it is the Chief Minister of the state – and the prime mover of the whole thing – doing it, and that too on a day when the stadium is being inaugurated, there is cause for serious concern.
One would like to give the Chief Minister the benefit of doubt and assume that he has only mouthed the lie fed to him by his overzealous officers. But he must make amends at the earliest because not doing has the potential of making the state a laughing stock in the whole world. In the age of internet and social media, there is simply no way such a blatant lie would go unchallenged for long.
But may be the Odisha government has been emboldened by its past success in peddling lies and repeating it a thousand times to create a big enough cacophony to drown out the fact. A case in point is its claim that Odisha was the first state in the country to pass the Lokayukta Bill. The claim was challenged almost immediately by Congress leader Prasad Harichandan and a few others (including yours truly). But that has not stopped the government from repeating the claim. Nearly nine years down the line (the Bill was passed in the Odisha Assembly on February 14, 2014, 23 days after Uttarakhand), the lie keeps getting repeated ad nauseam not just by the government (inside the Assembly and outside it), but also faithfully parroted by a less-than-vigilant state media. (So successful has been this misleading propaganda that even an otherwise credible Wikipedia has been taken in by it!).
In the years since then, the government has gotten away with lies, damned lies and white lies on numerous occasions – from the number of beneficiaries of schemes like the KALIA Yojana, National Food Security Act (NFSA) or the Biju Pucca Ghara Yojana to the number of deaths due to Covid-19 - with the few voices of reason too feeble to be heard over the din created by the all-powerful propaganda machinery of the government.
To those waiting to pounce on this columnist for playing spoilsport, lacking pride or simply being ‘anti-Odisha’ at a time when the state is drawing the attention of the world, I would like to pose just one question. Would it be more honourable for us Odias if we are revealed as a bunch of liars before the world?
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)