The 2019 Election Will Be Fought on Social Media: Decoding the BJP-Congress Meme Wars


The 2019 Election Will Be Fought on Social Media: Decoding the BJP-Congress Meme Wars

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

In the last 20 years or so, sliced bread has become the second best thing to happen to the human race. The first is social media. It has walked in all guns blazing, holding a Tide pod in one hand, and handing out mildly talented individuals the opportunity to become “influencers” with the other. The effect social media has had on society and our relationships is a discussion longer and more complex than an entire season of Splitsvilla. But the effect it has had on Indian politics ahead of the 2019 general election campaign, has been as in your face as the final outcome of a season of Splitsvilla.

Both the BJP and the Congress have prepared for this year’s election by gathering some of the finest software engineers and rejected advertising employees the world has to offer, putting them in a room together, where they can eat samosas from their bike helmets, wear their socks up to their knees, and impulsively tweet stream-of-consciousness thoughts. The output of these gatherings, or IT cells as they are officially called, is quite similar to those “kya aap love life se pareshan hain?” texts — garish, repetitive, and rarely grammatically correct.

The part in Gujarati translates to “Once More!”.

The IT cells of two of India’s biggest parties have come a long way in a very short while. From being portals dedicated to reminding everyone about the birth and death anniversaries of inconsequential leaders, they’ve gone on to form a Buzzfeed-like collective, delivering campaign promises and propaganda through normie memes, roast battles that remind you of the early noughties, and one-liners that you’d expect to see in an episode of Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma.

No politician cares about education in this country! HAHAH! LOL! JOKES ON U!

You would have thought the Cambridge Analytica scandal would have encouraged some subtlety the next time someone tried to influence an election, but apparently, for our politicians — who have grown up on a diet of K-Serials and CID — subtlety comes about as naturally as road-fixing capabilities. Faced with dozens of paid hashtags, fake followers, and entire teams dedicated to lying on WhatsApp, it’s slowly becoming impossible to tell what’s actually happening anymore. For instance, did the people of Tamil Nadu actually enjoy the Prime Minister’s visit last week, or not? Can someone please decipher this?

Screw Ted Bundy, this is the real mystery right here.

When not reducing the centuries-old democratic process down to a battle of hashtags, the IT cells are trying their best to make politicians look as human as possible. Remember 2008, when social media simply existed so you could get jealous of friends and stalk your exes? Well apparently at some point, the Congress and the BJP have managed to find a way to blend into this seamlessly: “Oooh Suresh got a new dog… Hmm, Sunita went on Vacation… Ahh, Rahul Gandhi inaugurated a smart village yesterday!”

All the IT cells have proved to us that they can effectively run a few social media pages. But how does that make them any better than a 16-year-old girl with two dogs and a sense of humour?

This year, we’re going to vote for our politicians the same way we voted for our favourite Indian Idol contestants years ago. Screw manifestoes, political promises, and all that other boring shit. All we really want to see is who cracks the more popular joke on Twitter, who has a more emotional backstory. Kill off a grandmother if you have to, hire Biswa Kalyan Rath, do what it takes, but for fuck’s sake, keep us constantly entertained!

You have to admit, it loses its charm after the first hundred times.

At this point, the onslaught might seem harmless, since very few of us are going to be swayed by this honestly not-great propaganda. But what kind of beast are we going to be dealing with, if this kind of popularity contest becomes a political strategy and continues until the next election?

The show Black Mirror, as usual, has a relevant dystopian future to offer. In Season 2, “The Waldo Moment” tells the story of a man who voices a crude, politically incorrect cartoon character, and as a result of his virality is forced to run for elections. Despite his own constant appeals that voters don’t choose him, he is elected. The real-life equivalent is, of course, the carrot cake that currently runs the United States. How far are we from a similar situation here in India?

Just another “high” school musical, nothing to see here…

All the IT cells have proved to us in the last few years is that they can effectively run a few social media pages. Sure, but how does that make them any better than a 16-year-old girl with two dogs and a sense of humour? Are we supposed to waltz into the election booth with the knowledge that the Congress totally rekt BJP with a meme, and that the BJP hit back with a crushing acronym? The lesson here is probably best delivered by Dr Seuss: When you let a troll run for polls, you should be ready to pay the toll.