What do young Indians who voted for the first time in 2014 think about the past decade? Scroll reporters find out in The Modi Generation.

Tauhid Khan had turned 18 just days before he voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Lok Sabha election in 2014.

Khan had had his voter ID card made in April that year, and was delighted about it – he felt that voting rights put him at par with adults. “My father used to watch the news every day and there would often be political discussions at home ahead of the elections,” Khan said. “I used to participate in those discussions, and getting to vote meant I would be able to voice my opinion in a more decisive way.” He votes from the Kolkata Dakshin Lok Sabha constituency, where this year polling will be held on June 1.

Khan’s opinions were heavily influenced by the corruption allegations against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. “The Commonwealth Games scam, the 2G scam, the Anna anti-corruption movement, they were all over the news,” he said.

Khan also recalls the role played by Facebook pages he subscribed to, which convinced him that the Congress prime ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi was a “pappu” – a pejorative nickname coined by the BJP to portray its political rival as incompetent. “There is much research now that shows how those Facebook posts which appeared funny on the face of it carried soft political messaging,” Khan said.

At his home too, a sentiment of anti-incumbency prevailed even if it did not translate into votes for the BJP. In the 2014 general election, his brother chose NOTA, or none of the above, an option that allows voters to reject all candidates. “My father might not have voted for the BJP but I remember him saying that the Congress was treating the country as its ‘poddari’,” Khan said. The term refers to the Poddar community, who have historically worked as cashiers.

For Khan, Modi’s promises that he would usher in development, and his skilled oratory, were enough reasons to vote for the BJP. “The primary instinct was to vote out the Congress,” he said, “but I was also taken in by how Modi as the chief minister of Gujarat canvassed it as the ideal state, which has seen great development.”

In the assembly election in West Bengal in 2016, however, Khan cast his vote for the incumbent Trinamool Congress. This was partly because he felt that a regional party should be voted to power in state elections – but his choice was also driven by a deeper understanding of Modi’s track record as Gujarat’s chief minister.

“Since Modi came to power in 2014, minority groups kept raising their voices against him, which made me more aware of what had happened in Gujarat in 2002,” he said, referring to the violence in the state that year, in which more than 1,000 were killed, the majority of them Muslims. Before 2014, he noted, he had paid little heed to these allegations, because “the anti-Congress sentiment was more prevalent”.

Ironically, Khan said that his upbringing in the relatively syncretic environment of Kolkata was part of the reason he did not initially regard Modi as a leader who was antagonistic towards Muslims. Life in the city was like “staying in a cocoon”, he said, one in which he never felt discriminated against, nor pressured to identify with his religious identity.

Khan’s views changed, however, in the five years between 2016 and 2021 that he spent at the Aligarh Muslim University, pursuing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. As he witnessed reactions in the university to various decisions taken by the Modi government, Khan said, his political views became “well-rounded”.

Khan recalls the demonetisation of high-value currency notes in November 2016 as an early episode in this process. Khan felt the cash crunch personally because he had planned to attend a concert in Mumbai, and suddenly found himself without the funds he needed to do so.

“I managed to attend the concert with help in getting cash from seniors and bank officials known to my father,” Khan said. “But I could see how mismanaged the decision was. There used to be huge queues outside the ATMs every day, as even ATMs would run out of cash.”

About a year-and-a-half later, Khan saw a greater surge of resentment against the Modi government when, in May 2018, Hindutva supporters barged into the campus and demanded that a decades-old portrait of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah be removed.

“I was not really affected by the controversy, but I participated in a human chain of 20,000 students because I found that the demand was unreasonable,” Khan observed.

Soon, though, Khan realised that the prevailing political situation affected him personally too. While he was studying for his bachelor’s degree, he landed an internship with The Telegraph, during which some of his articles were published in the newspaper.

“I wrote a series of articles on the cultural aspects of the Muslim community living in and around the Park Circus area of Kolkata,” he said. “One day, I received a call from an unknown person saying, ‘You seem to be writing a lot about Muslims.’ After that, my parents asked me to write only about sports.”

Khan abided by his parents’ advice until the campus witnessed tensions again in December 2019, after Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which fast-tracks the process of granting citizenship for non-Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

A rally was held in the university on December 15, 2019, to protest against the police’s assault of students who were agitating against the law in Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University. “I had just come out after appearing for an exam when the police started throwing tear gas shells to stop the students in AMU campus,” Khan said. “It was just a peaceful protest but within no time the campus looked like a war zone. Internet services were suspended, the police entered the campus and even detained some students.”

Khan was particularly enraged at news channels, which he said vilified the university. “When Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid were accused of raising anti-national slogans,” Khan said, referring to an incident that occurred in Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2016, “I had thought they must have done something wrong.” But, he added, “now I saw how the news channels spread propaganda.”

Khan felt it was his responsibility to report on what had actually happened. “Since there was no internet, I wrote a news report and narrated it over the phone to my editor at The Telegraph,” he said.

Khan said that he does not feel any guilt for having voted for the BJP in 2014, but admitted to not having foreseen the consequences of Modi coming to power. “In 2014, there was some talk of Modi being anti-Muslim but I thought what could he do after all,” Khan noted. “But now, to be a Muslim is a harrowing experience. The constant threat drains me.”

In the 2019 general election and the 2021 state election, he voted for the Communist Party of India (Marxist) because he personally knew the candidates.

When asked whom he would vote for in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, Khan did not give a clear answer. “If they nominate a familiar candidate, I will vote for the CPI(M),” he said. “Otherwise I will go by my conscience.”

The optimism that pushed 18-year-old Khan to vote for Modi in 2014, had faded, and was replaced by a kind of cynicism. “It is not like parties other than BJP will do wonders,” he said. “They BJP kills me from the front, others might kill me from the back. So, whatever delays my death.”