Narratives of hatred and division might drastically change the Indian elections

By Alena Kahle

It’s a Wednesday evening, and a group of Master’s students from The Hague’s International Institute for Social Sciences has organized a get together at The Bookstore Café. Chairs are pulled together under the books stacked up to the ceiling, and a crowd pours in. Indian students are chatting with their fellow batchmates, and are eager to provide insight into a politically divided world they have left behind physically, but by far not mentally.

In April 2019, the Indian populous will vote for its direct representatives. Whatever party wins most seats will effectively run the government, drive policies, and decide the direction the country will take. But even despite the vast diversity that exists in the party horizon, options are limited. The political left is fragmented, and the main opposition, so it is claimed, is led by a man incapable of presenting himself in the right way.

The students’ narrative takes the listeners on a journey: When in the last elections the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took over, hopes were high. The general electorate was carried away in the euphoria coming out of the election campaign, and nationalism surged not because of hatred for outsiders, but because of pride for the own success. This nationalism has turned. One student vividly describes the nature of television and news, and explains how they feel every message being published is designed to support the ruling majority in fear of being otherwise shut down. Ostensibly political TV debates, if they are not government-narrated, have turned into one big reality TV show. Being a true Indian patriot has become synonymous with supporting economic growth at all costs, and the ruling party has already banned Greenpeace and is shutting down any group that favours promoting social justice over excessive growth.

In this election campaign, the strength of the BJP, the ruling party, seems to be that its “growth-first” policy is at first glance uplifting the life quality of many. But its true strength, the evening shows, is the BJP since winning the last elections has fostered a narrative of societal division. One student describes BJP as a corporation more than a party, which throughout its current rule has managed to bond its voters while marginalizing its opponents through its narrative.

The students are worried. They raise issues of anti-Muslim hatred, and one student brings up that they feel history is being rewritten to paint Muslims as invaders of the culture, and to promote Hindu unity, in a country where diversity fuels hospitality. The evening has taken a turn from just being about politics. It has expanded to encompass a worrying change in society. The elections in April 2019 are bound not only to decide whether divisions have managed to become deeply entrenched in society, but also whether politics will continue to tackle problems that are not those in need of being addressed.

Over thirty thousand people of Indian origin live in The Netherlands, with its largest group living in The Hague.[1] Compared to the population of 1.3 billion India itself had in 2016, this number might appear small, but those abroad have proven to make their voices heard, and address concerns about their country’s future to the world.[2]

As author, I have communicated with the organizers of the event to confirm that the article did not misinterpret comments made at the event. I therefore hope to have accurately portrayed the opinions and current events in India. The live stream of the video can be found at https://www.facebook.com/international.scholas/videos/502272256955036/

[1]  CBS StatLine – Population; sex, age, origin and generation, 1 January”. statline.cbs.nl. Retrieved 15 September 2016.

[2] “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”ESA.UN.org (custom data acquired via website). United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. Retrieved 10 September2017.

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