He was an unflinching Modi supporter. She was rabidly against Modi. They thought that their love could triumph over their political differences but alas, their conviction for their political opinions proved to be stronger.
Does the story remind you of any couple you know? The names of the characters may differ but the storyline remains the same.
The Great Divide
Thanks to social media and the internet, political information has become more accessible. This has resulted in politics entering personal spaces, which would have otherwise been free of political discourses. WhatsApp good morning messages have the potential to carry subtle political messages.
According to a survey conducted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, more than 50 percent of Indians consume news through social media. This is a double-edged sword as it creates interest in politics, but also spreads propaganda and misinformation. These online polarised interactions coupled with increased political identification offline have led to a divide in the country.
Unlike the party-based division in the US, the Indian youth is split on the topic of Narendra Modi. This is because of two reasons — hero-worshipping and personalisation in Indian politics. Even the ones who consider themselves apolitical, have some opinion on Modi.
As a larger-than-life political leader, Modi is a principled, righteous man for his supporters who will work hard for the nation. For Modi's opposers, he represents everything that is wrong with the country. Support for Modi is not binary but rather exists in a spectrum.
When one realises that the other person holds a different opinion about Modi, the bias sets in and there is a change in the behaviour. The person is met with scepticism and viewed negatively. Apart from its effects on politics, it impacts the lives of individuals.
One such consequence is the dating preferences of Indian youth.
When it comes to dating, studies conducted in the US have shown how people tend to prefer partners who share similar political values and levels of interest. A similar trend seems to be unfolding in India.
When I interviewed young people across Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, and Kolkata, I asked them if they were willing to date someone who had contrary views about Modi.
Among them, about 52.17 percent of the women said that they would not date someone who has opposite opinions about Modi. While 21.73 percent of them were open to the prospect of dating such a person, about 26 percent of the women felt that it would depend on a case-by-case basis.
On the other hand, only 17.64 percent of men said that they would not date someone who has opposing views on Modi. For 29.41 percent of male respondents, the views of the person did not matter while 52.94 percent of them felt that it would depend on an individual basis. It highlights that as compared to men, women are three times more likely to not date someone from the opposite side of the Modi support spectrum. It shows a pattern of how political opinions are becoming dominant considerations while dating.
Politics as a Dating Filter
Some youngsters feel that having similar views about Modi and politics is non-negotiable. They feel that support or opposition to Modi is not about the leader but a reflection of the ethos and value system of the person.
Hence, some use it as a standard to filter out potential romantic interests like Ananya*, an undergraduate student from Delhi.
Her feelings for her crush died down the moment she learned that he was a Modi supporter and an ardent right-winger. She claims, “I don't know about others but for me, it matters. I haven't felt anything for him since then. It is a big turnoff for me, it matters.”
In any relationship, it is important to communicate effectively. Listening is a part of the process. It is impossible for both people to be on the same page about everything including politics. However, it is difficult to discuss politics with a person having different views if they are not willing to engage and listen. Paying no heed shows an unwillingness to interact with the other side.
For Tanvi*, strong Modi supporters and opposers are walking-talking red flags. The 22-year-old from Bengaluru opines, “If they are not willing to listen, they are a big red flag- run away.”
Why This Matters
Some people find it difficult to reconcile their political beliefs with their personal lives. It becomes tougher when one is dating a person from the other side of the Modi support spectrum.
Apart from the standard topics for a couple's fight, politics becomes an addition. Aditya*, a student from Mumbai, believes that there is a lack of coherent arguments when it comes to people opposing Modi. His ex-girlfriend was not a Modi supporter unlike him.
With the two being loggerheads with each other, both want the other person to concede the debate. He states, “There is hypocrisy on the liberal or left side. The line of arguments is not backed by data.” Though the relationship did not work out, he was happy that he could politically convert and bring her to the other side.
With polarisation taking over, political conversations become increasingly difficult. There is a need to establish supremacy in these debates, especially when they have strong views on the topic. These dialogues can easily escalate into heated arguments.
Therefore, some people prefer to keep politics off the table.
Maya*, who is pursuing her undergraduate degree in Economics, prefers to not participate in political discussions. She argues, “People tend to think that whatever I am saying is right, and if you are not listening to me, then you are foolish.” It also brings out the power dynamics of the relationship.
People connect with Modi on a personal level, on a positive or a negative note. Hence, along with other criteria, similar views on Modi and political compatibility have been added to the checklist for dating. With polarisation entering the daily lives of Indians, it is difficult to keep political identity aside. This reflects how young Indians perceive politics- the personal has indeed become political.
(*Names have been changed to protect their identity.)
(Prarthana Puthran recently graduated with a Research Master's degree in Political Science from Sciences Po, Paris. Her research interests include polarisation, democracy, gender, and Indian politics. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)