‘All Memes Necessary’: The Rise of Political Satire in India’s Digital Democracy

Maariyah Siddique,TwoCircles.net

In 2016, at the release of his book titled ‘Andhere Se Ujale Ki Aur’, the late Union Minister for Finance, Arun Jaitley, lamented the diminishing space for humor and satire in Indian politics — expressing hope for its resurgence. Fast forward to April 19, 2024, as India commenced its 18th Lok Sabha elections, spanning seven phases with a staggering 970 million registered voters, amidst offline poll campaigns marked by hate speeches, the online realm emerged as a hub of political communication — with memes at its forefront.

Support TwoCircles

Dr Mohammad Reyaz, an assistant professor of communication, notes the pivotal role of memes in modern political discourse, propelled by India’s burgeoning digital consumer market. “Memes have already become an important political communication tool manifested from the fact that even social media handles of political parties and politicians themselves share them often.”

Interestingly, this was the first election with the Indian digital consumer market becoming the second in the world next to China with 751 million active internet users alongside 462 million social media users.

Drawing inspiration from traditional satirical works, memes have evolved into a dynamic fusion of caricature, pop culture and comedy — serving as vehicles for political expression in the digital age.

Originating from the concept of ‘memetics’, it symbolizes units of imitation or replication, embodying ideas, behaviors or skills passed on through social imitation. As memes proliferate online, it undergoes transformations — adapting to various contexts and issues, thereby becoming potent tools of political communication.

The term ‘meme’ was coined by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Derived from the Greek word ‘Mimeme’, memes essentially serve as units of imitation or replication.

According to visual culture and memetics, a political meme can be conceptualized as “a piece of culture”, which circulates online, undergoes replication and evolves into a digital artifact over time.

Amidst the backdrop of polarized rhetoric, hate crimes and divisive speeches prevalent in offline political discourse, seemingly light-hearted memes emerge as a silver lining. These memes, imbued with political sarcasm, are delivered directly to phone screens at any hour of the day, offering a respite from the intense campaigning environment.

While offline political discourse takes varied forms, memes stand out as relics of online rhetoric, distinct from their offline counterparts.

By all ‘memes’, is this a comeback of political humor?

Sumaiya Ali, a journalist, emphasizes the accessibility and impact of memes, particularly among the youth who consume political content through social media platforms.

As someone who keenly monitors political landscapes online, she feels it is easier to navigate daily trends through memes. “Political memes, specifically, can convey much in two lines and a picture that resonates deeply with youngsters,” she feels.”

“One doesn’t need to read long paragraphs to make a point that chimes with the younger generation,” she says, adding, “Memes distill complex ideas into digestible formats, resonating deeply with audiences and facilitating political engagement in an era of shortened attention spans”.

This is perhaps one of the reasons it is the most popular on social media platforms, majorly catering to the youth.

“Although memes have not received much serious academic attention, it is increasing on the share scale,” Reyaz states.

As internet penetration rate in the country has increased from 14% in 2014 to a whopping 52% in 2024, are these memes even understandable or relatable?

“You don’t need facts to counter opinions now, you have memes,” says Sumaiya, claiming that she saw a political meme first and then got acquainted with the context after delving into the comments section.

Whenever there is a breaking story or a political drama around, memes float on social media, engaging youth, millennials and professionals alike.

According to Reyaz, a good meme is like a very creative advertisement with probably a fraction of the budget spent, thus making it extremely useful in widespread political communication.

“Unlike political cartoons or posters, which point to specific contexts and can be rarely used again, memes can be used multiple times in various contexts — sometimes by completely opposing sides,” he explains.

It can be understood by an example. Amid media reports, highlighting low voter turnout and people resorting to NOTA, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his gratitude to the electorate on April 26.


While the tweet was a straight-worded follow through after his resounding hate speech in Rajasthan, the interactions in the thread under his tweet project a colourful story. The responses range from sharp, witty and funny jibes, with meme-creators seemingly having a great time pointing out social issues, manifesto fallacies and electoral discrepancies of various political parties.

While one comment summarises the PM’s offline speeches, the other mentions his misses.




This user handle, however, disrupts the above by posting a video where JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon is praising Modi.



While other users in the thread resonate support for Modi’s third term, one blasts the Trinamool Congress (TMC) strongman from Sandeshkhali, Sheikh Shahjahan.


The longer the tweet, the more diverse the opinions. What is fascinating here for 21-year-old Aiema Tauheed is that just one pinned tweet gives a blow by blow account of an event”.

As a young media professional engaged in PR and marketing, she says be it static memes or reels, it is “super impactful for covert reputation building”. “As the election results were announced on June 4, social media was flooded with AI-generated and celebrity edits of politicians — which are “seemingly hilarious”. It goes a long way in building perception,” she says.

She adds that memes have penetrated into daily online discourses and often make way to offline discourses in college campuses thus affecting youths whose worldviews “get informed and perfected” by digital discourses.

She feels that amid the increasing crackdown on activists and journalists, advocating free speech, “political memes are acting as custodians of freedom of speech — making spaces deliberative”.

‘Say it by all memes’

While memes have gained traction in recent elections, its efficacy in conveying political messages varies. Soumya Suvra Das, a filmmaker and media educator, underscores the importance of contextual understanding in decoding memes, cautioning against their potential to spread misinformation.

Junaid Wahid, a former RJ turned brand manager and meme creator, believes in the transformative power of memes in mobilizing and polarizing online communities. Memes, he argues, possess a unique visual recall, enabling them to transcend language barriers and resonate with diverse audiences.

Amidst the proliferation of political memes, concerns about their role in shaping public perception and disseminating fake news persist. However, Aiema Tauheed, a media professional, views memes as custodians of free speech, fostering deliberative discourse in digital spaces.

As India’s political landscape evolves, memes continue to play a pivotal role in online campaigning, transcending traditional barriers of language and space. While their impact remains a subject of debate, their ability to engage and mobilize diverse audiences underscores their significance in shaping the future of Indian democracy.


(The author is an assistant professor of media science. She is studying memes and political communication)