Indian Democracy Under Threat: The BJP’s Online Authoritarian Populism as a Means to Advance an Ethnoreligious Nationalist Agenda in the 2019 General Election

Gillian Bolsover


The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Narendra Modi has been a pioneer of technologically enabled authoritarian populism, elected by a landslide in 2014 and reelected in 2019. However, India’s online authoritarian populism is relatively understudied with important questions remaining about the prevalence of authoritarian populist and ethnoreligious nationalist messages and mobilization around these ideologies. This research examines a representative sample of pro-BJP discourse on Twitter in the final week of the 2019 campaign. It finds the BJP used authoritarian populist strategies to advance an ethnoreligious nationalist agenda. Traditional media were excluded. Social media allowed direct leader-to-people connection, facilitating a personality cult around Modi. Online opinion leaders, often overlooked in studies of political campaigns, advanced the most extreme ethnoreligious nationalism, including religiously polarizing misinformation. These ideologies and strategies are dangerous to Indian democracy.


India, political communication, political campaigning, elections, Internet, social media, Twitter, BJP, Modi, authoritarian populism, ethnoreligious nationalism

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