An emerging third front coalition comprising a conglomeration of caste based, identity based, language based and region based political formations that make, remake, and unmake its political identity in between Bicycle, Two Leaves, Car, Elephant, Bungalow, Bow and Arrow, Rising Sun, etc.
The identity based political polarisation in social media sites reflects the assuming interest showed by several political parties in new media platforms. Politically influenced communities such as RSS, BSP, MNS, BJP and Shiv Sena are the most updated online. Narendra Modi, the top brass leader of BJP has over 1.8 million followers on Twitter, a figure exceeded only by sporting stars or Bollywood stars.
By now, Lotus, Hand, Bicycle, Elephant, etc., have found the symbolic political representation in Internet. Elephant (BSP), Lotus (BJP), Hand (INC), Bicycle (SP) and a plethora of political party symbols have become powerful tools of political mobilisation in digital media platforms. Social media has now adapted to politics, caste, and identity.
People are still talking about their ‘gotra’, sexual identity, place of birth, language culture, etc., means it is important for them and they want to discuss it in a group they feel they can trust. Social media is an environment in which digital citizen are sure they will never subject to laugh. Social media sites provide just that. Internet has given identities new loudspeakers. For identity hungry social formations, social web has just added fire to the turbulent antagonism.
Certainly, significance of technology lies elsewhere. Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites have the potential to offer an alternative to the identity politics and populist economics that shamble India by breaking the left-party monopoly over ideas. Exorbitant economic growth coupled with extreme scarcity and food shortage for poor calls for concerted aggression against the insensitivity of ruling class.
A vibrant middle class citizenry coexisting with intense corruption and modernity put side by side with antiquity, confound and confuse the claustrophobic social media embedded political space. Paradoxical also it is to describe two simultaneous trends in Indian democracy. Over the years, we have seen that India is transitioning away from identity-based politics, yet also we are returning power to identity based parties and politicians. The social media story comes in this critical juncture, whether social web is standing with the primordial identities or against the identities.
In a country where voting often breaks down by caste or religion, there is no evidence to suggest that the primary identity of any voter is Facebook or Twitter profiles. The middle class is more adept at backbiting over politics at dinner parties and office jokes than actually showing commitment to polling booth. They are much less at organising and campaigning in electoral politics.
However, the consulting firms like McKinsey predict higher penetration of broadband among users in India in millions by years to follow. Nobody knows for sure how many of these are simply teenagers rather than potential voters. No body knows how many profiles are caste groups, gender groups, regional groups, minority groups etc. How many among this are middle class that they show up to democracy and political engagement via social web, which they would not do otherwise.
Twitter and Facebook have accelerated our attempt at making India joining the league of countries that show up greater potential of participatory and deliberative politics since digital media. We have poor understanding that whether social media is the best practice to deal with corruption, yet, the threat of radical Islam or the idiocy of hasty populism or the futile gathering of ancient identities to the information world.
Yet, we are much sure that the age where a handful of elites effectively control the commanding heights of the public debate now become a thing of past. Now social web has reached every home, every pocket and every leather bag and we are now able to bring about a pocket public with us at our fingertips or touch screens.
Social web has helped prompt a level playing field for those that are at the opposing end or the receiving end of political spectre. The potential Lotus tag, Narendra Modi fashioned a new way of political appeal to the masses and to identity affinities. He was able to hit over the heads of veteran journalists. Now the twitter updates and blog posts of political class have become breaking items on cable news every evening.
Many political parties among the core circle of identity fulcrum are joining the stream of competition in digital democracy.These trends hold a wider revitalisation Indian democracy. In addition, these hold implications for democratic development in identity politics. Examining few factors necessitates an understanding about it.
The first trend is that Indian voters are now choosing identity over performance. In Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh (UP), Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, etc., many identity-based parties are finding themselves emphatically at political battles over the national parties, which are losing its sway over state politics. Formed in the 1960s as a reaction against the powerful Congress Party, the identity based groups built an expanding political basis by appealing to language, minority status, caste, religious affinity, ethnicity, gender or religion. In the past, such tactics had been largely successful.
Second trend is that recent state elections suggest that Indian voters have begun casting identity over to the virtual spaces. Yet, it parallels a second development. National parties have become insignificant to small, regional identity parties.BSP sovereign Mayawati ousted from power in UP not by national figure Rahul Gandhi and his Congress Party, but by a Bicycle, i.e., a regional group catering to Muslim community and low caste citizens. Similarities have emerged in other states; in Andhra Pradesh Car fights Bicycle. In Tamil Nadu, Two Leaves fights Rising Sun. in Bihar Arrow fights hurricane lamp.
Thirdly, while identity-based parties are reemerging, they are doing so on Internet.In Uttar Pradesh, SP (http://www.samajwadiparty.in/) dashes a website and a Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/samajwadiparty) page. BSP is drawing support form dalit castes also run website (http://www.bspindia.org/) that says ‘identity of revolution’, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/mybsp) with 3452 likes, Twitter (https://twitter.com/bspindia) with 87 tweets and 172 followers and LinkedIn (http://in.linkedin.com/in/bspindia) with 129 connections and a blog(http://news.bspindia.org/). This signifies that fringe identities in a land that spread out high culture as popular, now began to get a space that has already overlooked and denied by traditional communicative platforms and discursive practices.
In Andhra Pradesh, TRS has website (http://trsuk.com/home.php), TDP has website, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TDP.Official) with 71372 likes, YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/telugudesampartytv2) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/jaitdp) with 9731 tweets and 4289 followers. The virtual platforms of such political formations in Internet have represented their respective identity traits based on regional and linguistic affinities.
The ethnic, linguistic and regional identity traits represented by political formations in TN signify that Internet as discursive space for the marginal will be the next play ground of Indian politicos. In TN, DMK with its website (http://www.dmk.in/) Twitter (https://twitter.com/arivalayam) with 1678 followers and 2396 tweets and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/arivalayam) with 9642 likes and AIADMK with its website ( http://www.aiadmkallindia.org) have teleported the fleet of identity politics to the virtual sphere. This is almost similar to all other identity based regional parties to reconfigure identity factor in Internet.
Identity based political formations are challenging the hegemony of Hinduised mainstream media platforms. Film industry, Television, advertisement, literature, etc., has great affinity to Indian mythologies, it produced, reproduced, and unproduced Indian mythologies that represented high culture of Indian mind.
Regional identity based political formations offer the exhausted Indian voter alternatives to the failing mainstream media. Identity formations in Internet deconstructed the Indian myths. Cyber space has co-opted with identity-based cyber dissidents for demolishing the myth associated with high culture and tradition. Story telling, narrative practices and space has given new horizon and marginal identities began to acquire a virtual space that otherwise denied by the Hinduised traditional media and communicative practices. Here forms the trajectory of identity and political formation in Indian Internet.
They have emerged with call for identity assertion, growth, combating corruption, self-respect, and reform that has overlooked by traditional mainstream media. They are driving electoral competition and raising the standards of government. Many of politicos in India found their careers on primordial loyalties and allegiances in electoral arithmetic where they have co-opted cyber culture as deconstructive practices and discursive site.
Indians simply voting out identity based poor performers and replacing them with similar identity-based proxy. Now identity continues to define Indian politics. Equally important is that social web and digital platforms are reconfiguring identity factors in electoral compulsions and political scenario. Yes, the complex structure of Indian society has already produced, reproduced and unproduced in digital India.
Evolving relationship with cyber identity and politics seems to offer no promise. Recent elections suggest that democracy get immature not by ignoring identity, but by permitting competition among identity parties to co-opt virtual sphere. As democracy consolidates, an increasingly deviant citizenry goes to rely more on primitive loyalties and primordial allegiances and politics play surrogate role in Internet.
Identity based party politics are not strengthening Indian democracy. Yet, with social web, political identity got a new amplifier. Marginal identities are demanding more from the State and identity parties are responding with newer means. Stronger network platforms, compulsions from electoral arithmetic and good governance and in the process, social web have co-opted to cater to a bunch of new receptors. Social media platforms have used to network and collaborate with people on the fringe margins and meantime, identity based political parties have found their Pandora box in Internet.
The author is Assistant Professor and HoD, Department of Political Science, Government Brennen College, Kerala. The author recognizes inputs of Gayathri O. is Assistant Professor/FDP Scholar, Department of Political Science Kerala, University,India. for this article.