It was in early 90’s; India was finding a new political entity that could be alternative to Congress, which was the formidable force in Indian politics. Though some regional parties had captured powered in some states, there were hardly any challengers in the National level for Congress.

At this juncture, BJP emerged as a potential alternative through Ram Janam Bhoomi issue, after it’s the then President LK Advani took out a Ram Rath Yatra. A series of rallies were held across the country, which powered BJP surge as an alternative to Congress. One such rally was held at National College Grounds, Bangalore, where former cricketer Mohindar Amarnath joined BJP.
Welcoming the 1983 World Cup hero, Advani had quipped: `There is a lot of politics in sports, but lack of sportsman spirit in politics.’
It looked like Advani was explaining the situations in other states of the country. The political violence was less known to Southern states. One used to hear about political violence in states like Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and occasionally in neighboring Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Even the election campaigns were based on issues pertaining people and promises over development.

In 1999, SM Krishna took over the leadership of Karnataka Congress and went around with his Panchajanya Yatra. The Yatra was as smooth as a flowing river and Krishna steered Congress to victory, defeating the then incumbent Janata Dal. There were no high decibel speeches. The main issue was about farmers and promise of new economic policies in the state.
Two decades on and the entire scenario has changed. Karnataka will be going to polls next year, but the battle lines are already drawn – violently. Coastal and Malnad regions have already witnessed over five murders owing to communal reasons but are reportedly politically motivated. The social media war is at an all-time high, where what we perceived to be freedom fighters are vilified to prove their political agendas. Even Gandhi, Nehru, or VD Savarkar are not spared by the warring factions.
It is not that only Karnataka has joined the league of violent political arena. Violent politics is now part of Indian political culture. Worst is that even the common people take pride to be part of such a system, irrespective of their political ideology affiliations.

There are multiple reasons for Indian political culture witnessing a sea of change. The change in socio-economic status, advent of technology has changed the people’s perception of their role in political arena. Worst is the influence of social media, through which the common people are trying to build their own virtual image, irrespective of the ground realities around them.
In early 90’s, there were no social media and people still depended on traditional media to get information. The economy was just opening, offering new opportunities. But large populations were still in the traditional mindset and were skeptical about longevity of the new opportunities.

The political activity was mainly domain of lower and lower middle-class people. The middle-class people were disillusioned with political leaders and were skeptical about future of the country. The upper middle class suffered from the identity crisis.

For the first fifty years of independence, the electoral politics revolved around the caste system that prevailed in the country. The Congress had firm grip on vote banks like Dalits, Minorities, and other backward class people, leaving the opposition to deal with Congress’ personal failure and consolidation of upper class. With Ram Mandir issue, BJP broke into traditional voting pattern and created a `Hindutwa’ identity. That changed the entire political atmosphere in the country and issues pertaining majority and minority came to fore, along with corruption issues.

It is not that the country was harmonious till BJP came up with Hindutwa agenda. Socially, the issue was an undercurrent. However, all the political parties used to brush it under the carpet to ensure a pie of the vote bank. BJP’s bold move threatened not only Congress, but all the political parties, which were banking on dominant castes in the respective regions for poll politics.
Though traditional media had great influence in the early part of 2000, it had its own limitations. The NDA government’s `India Shining’ campaign through media bombed to rope home the BJP alliance to power, despite party leaders like the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajapayee, LK Advani having a towering public image. However, ten years later, BJP reached the masses through social media. The social media campaign was so successful that even before the Congress and other political parties realised what happened, BJP had already formed the government in the center, capturing power in many more states across the country.

It was not that either India or BJP were the first to recognise the power of social media in political movement. In most of the developed countries, where political parties struggle to reach out to the masses have used available media sources to reach out to the people. The extremist organisations throughout the world were the first to use social media for their advantage. However, the people’s revolutions in Tunisia (2010) and Egypt (2011) proved beyond a point that there was no alternative to social media when it comes to reach and influence masses. That was what exactly the BJP, which earlier depended on organisations like RSS, VHP and Bajarang Dal to reach people, did during 2014 elections. They used social media effectively to reach out to people in the lowest strata of the society, who, otherwise stayed away from mainstream media. The other political parties were just mute spectators.
Soon after realising the impact of the social media in reaching out to the people, all the political parties started using the tool. Consequently, every political party set up their social media control rooms in grass root levels, raking up local issues in a decentralised way. The election manifestos in the country started getting decentralised, where local issues started taking central stage. The issues were divided on caste, creed, and religious basis, where a lot of misinformation campaigns were shamelessly carried out.

The use of social media has helped even the international ideologues interfere with other country’s internal matters. In India itself, there have been enough examples of international support for local agitations through social media, influencing international community through successful social media campaigns. This is to exert pressure on the government and influence the foreign policies of other countries against the ruling dispensation, which can have far reaching repercussions on the world community.
Even within the country, the consequences have been dangerous. The lower and lower middle-class people have started getting virtual identities based on their caste, creed, religion, and the political ideology affiliations. The ideologies began dividing neighborhoods, which was never a case earlier. The religious divide started getting wider and wider. Even the small towns that never witnessed communal clashes in the history started turning out to be battle grounds. Even the bureaucracy is largely divided over ideology and courts are flooded with the cases regarding local issues.

The worst came after the political parties and ideologues continued their efforts to `catch them young’ through social media. The students’ movements that were restricted to a few central universities in the country has now reached schools and colleges in small towns across the country. The children are growing with religious and ideological affiliations, rather than academics and sports. The moral education has completely vanished from the Indian academics. Even what morals should be taught to the children has been a subject of debate, divided over religious and ideological affiliations.

This leaves a big question over the future of the next generation. On one hand, the country is making huge economic, technological progress. On the other hand, the large population is pushing the social structure back to medieval era. This will affect the long-term sustainability of the economic progress, which can potentially lead to chaos in the country.
No doubt the social media is an integral part of our lives. However, little we are realising that it is transforming our lives from `living to performance’. The mass hysteria created by organised use of the social media has effectively transformed social behaviour from society to ideological individuals. Being Trolled is a virtual reality.
This generation is getting more and more online than observing and understanding the real world. Even the sports are going online and sportsman spirit is fast receding.
– Vinay Madhav is a seasoned writer who has had a long standing career with various top publications