In a talk on June 12 at an oberseminar at the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology, LMU Munich, Sahana Udupa presented ‘”Everything has become politics”: New media, millennial politics and the middle class in urban India’.
As one of the fastest growing digital economies in the world, India is witnessing a growing number of citizens actively using digital media platforms to chart their way into and lay claims on the public discourse. On one level, this has coagulated into a rambunctious discourse around nation and national belonging among a significant group of politically savvy youth active on online media. With the spread of social media and globally shared confidence that digitally enabled publics can trump legacy power, a new kind of ‘ideological entrepreneurship’ has emerged at the nexus of technology, market, and user practice, bringing new volunteers for religious nationalism to the fore of mainstream public debate (Udupa, 2015). While online nationalism is itself a complex and contradictory affinity space, a variety of digital activism experiments underway in urban India overlay right-wing enthusiasm with divergent imaginaries.
In this paper, Udupa explores the digital media practices of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Loksatta – the new millennium parties – to understand the ways digitally enhanced strategies are increasingly shaping middle class political participation in urban India. She suggests that the efforts of middle class volunteers of the parties privilege the language of audits, needs and targets, aiming to harness digital media to not only disseminate messages and enlist supporters, but more notably to develop the imagined ‘unmediated’ citizen voice shaping into Swaraj (self-rule) through Facebook content analysis, ‘missed call’ campaigns, messenger services and interactive voice response technologies. Building on the cases of AAP and Lok Satta and their digitally enhanced audits and analytics, the paper will evaluate the presumed ‘post-political’ visions of urban development steered by the ‘responsibilized middle class’ (Duggan, 2003; Fernandes, 2000; Udupa 2014; Upadhya 2016). She concludes by offering some provisional arguments on the limits of digitally mediated middle class enterprise in urban politics and its connections with online nationalism.