The rise of technology has given prominence to social media as a potent tool, embraced by a wide spectrum of users, including citizens, companies, celebrities, and even politicians and political parties. Every political party in India now maintains its own social media presence, often managing multiple accounts for different states.
In Indian politics, the landscape has often been characterized by overt confrontations within legislative bodies, verbal jabs exchanged during speeches, the prevalence of political trolling, and more recently, the trend of openly creating memes to satirize opposition parties.
Let’s take a glimpse at a few of them:
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Hum Aap Ke Hain Kaun pic.twitter.com/pb6KVserL9
— Congress (@INCIndia) December 29, 2023
Amusing, isn’t it? However, with the approaching 2024 Lok Sabha elections, it’s crucial to consider the real-time consequences that such frivolous actions might have on the country.
India’s Political Scenario
The concept of ‘ethnic democracy’ originated in Israel and has been applied to understand similar democratic structures. In India, post-2014, while elections, a relatively independent judiciary (until around 2017 or 2018), and a somewhat independent press persisted, there has been a notable shift. India, in this context, is described as an ethnic democracy, implying that minorities—non-Hindus, Muslims, and Christians—found themselves as second-class citizens in their own country. This status was often reinforced by government-supported vigilante groups, a characteristic of national populist regimes where activists make life challenging for minority communities.
India stands as the world’s largest democracy, boasting 7 national parties, 55 state parties, and approximately 2,500 unrecognized ones. Each party champions its distinctive agenda, spanning ideologies from communism to Hindutva, and occupying positions across the political spectrum, encompassing right-wing extremists to left-wing extremists. Following centuries of British rule, India transitioned to democracy in 1947, with the Indian National Congress holding sway as the dominant party in the nation for 17 general elections.
In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ascended to power in India. Over the years, support for the Congress party diminished; however, the party displayed resilience and garnered backing, largely attributed to its association with the ‘Gandhi dynasty’—comprising Indira Gandhi and her descendants. It’s noteworthy that they do not share a direct familial connection with Mahatma Gandhi. Indira Gandhi, Nehru’s daughter, was married to Feroz Gandhi, who, despite the shared surname, had no familial ties to Mahatma Gandhi.
In 2014, Narendra Modi, who had served as the Chief Minister of Gujarat since 2001, secured the position of Prime Minister. Notable for his Hindu nationalist convictions, Modi had crafted an image as a proficient administrator credited with revitalising Gujarat’s economy and drawing investments from diverse Indian industrialists. However, his political journey was marked by significant attention stemming from the Gujarat riots in 2002 and during that period, months of communal violence swept across the state after Modi attributed a fire on a train of Hindu pilgrims to Islamic terrorists.
The aftermath of the riots resulted in over a thousand deaths, predominantly among the Muslim community. Modi’s administration faced accusations of both instigating the violence and subsequently failing to bring it under control, although it was cleared of conspiracy in 2012.
In the 2014 general election, Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), secured a substantial victory, claiming 31% of the vote and 282 seats, constituting an outright majority. In 2019, the BJP further expanded its dominance, winning 37% of the popular vote and securing 303 seats.
The bulk of the BJP’s support emanates from the densely populated and generally less affluent Hindi ‘heartland’ states in the northern region of India, such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar. Nevertheless, the party aspires to broaden its support base in other states.
Since the BJP assumed power, opposition parties have expressed strong disapproval of the party’s governance. Through various means, including social media posts and the formation of alliances like the INDIA alliance and coalitions with other parties, nearly every political entity is diligently working to prevent the BJP from winning the 2024 elections. Amid these efforts, there exists a well-known exchange of verbal jabs and memes among them.
Political trolling involves deliberately posting inflammatory or provocative content online to create discord, generate controversy, or manipulate public opinion within the political sphere. The aim is often to incite emotional reactions, spread misinformation, or disrupt civil discourse.
When major political parties like the BJP and Congress engage in posting memes attacking each other on official platforms, it reflects a strategic use of communication in the digital era. This form of online engagement falls under the broader category of political communication and campaigning.
Furthermore, it has a significant impact on the 2024 elections – The use of memes in political communication is playing a great role in shaping public discourse and influencing the narrative around key issues. For instance,
मोदी के खास बलात्कारी pic.twitter.com/7ffKXtDX2K
— Congress (@INCIndia) December 31, 2023
The INC utilized this post to shed light on the involvement of three members of the BJP IT Cell in a gang rape case, a piece of information that has not been widely covered by major media outlets. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has also shared similar posts. While the intention of bringing this information to public attention is justified, how it has been done may be perceived as somewhat insensitive.
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While these posts are entertaining and deliver information distinctively, they potentially damage our country’s reputation. Is it truly desirable for our election candidates to partake in such trivial arguments? Their focus should be on governing, and dedicated efforts toward the improvement of the people’s welfare.
Political trolling by India’s political parties has implications that extend beyond domestic politics, impacting the international image of the country. Political leaders need to consider the broader consequences of their online behaviour on India’s standing in the global community and its ability to attract positive attention, investments, and partnerships on the international stage.
Ultimately, do we desire to entrust the leadership of our nations to individuals who consistently engage in mutual degradation? For a developing country like India, the need is for leaders who surpass such behaviour, individuals who comprehend the importance of fostering relationships and resolving issues for the betterment of the nation.