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Millennium Post

How real is the battle of virtual?

The Indian Cyberia was abuzz last weekend over the launch of a portal called Pheku.in. The contents of the portal are planned in a way that they come as a spoof on Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, whose warriors have ruled the Indian cyber space unchallenged so far. While the Congress has not claimed ownership of the new portal, from its content it is very clear that it proposes to partner the ruling party in the battle for Lok Sabha in 2014.

The panel of people who ‘support’ the website are intellectuals, academics, journalist and artists, who have come together in their opposition to Narendra Modi. While none of them are members of the Congress party there are several among them who have lived on and lapped up patronages and privileges passed on by the leader of the United Progressive Alliance.

In its introductory note, the website says, ‘We live in an uncritical age where the bluster and fluff that is used to cover up pathological violence goes unexamined and unchallenged far too often. It’s the task of every one of us to examine and challenge, test and expose the daily scented droppings of a PR machine.’ That it’s a Congress enterprise is evident from the name Pheku, which was coined by party sympathizers as retort to Modi supporters calling Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi Pappu.

Nonetheless, the launch of this website marks the formal entry of cyber warriors from Congress side, while the BJP has already made plans to strengthen the rank and file of its cyber riders. Recent media reports had suggested that the BJP is recruiting 10,000 volunteers across the country as part of its social media team, which will be headed by party general secretary Amit Shah. The party has planned to focus on 160 constituencies which are considered to have a high impact on social media.

These constituencies are those in which the number of social media users is more than the margin of victory in the last Lok Sabha elections and where social media users account for more than 10 per cent of the electorate. The BJP plans to recruit about 10-30 volunteers per constituency.
It goes without saying that the initiative comes at the behest of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, who has been made the chairman of the campaign committee of the BJP, and has repeatedly advocated the idea of recruiting volunteers for social media. Modi, even in the parliamentary board meetings, has emphasised on the need to tap the social media and no wonder his aide BJP general secretary Amit Shah will head the social media team.

Apart from recruiting the 10,000 volunteers, the BJP also plans to have subject experts. These netizens will have expertise on subjects like foreign affairs, economics, history, political science, religion among others. They will be required to tweet or post on Facebook the party’s views on the topic that is trending.

The BJP plans to synergise its energy in states like Maharashtra, which has 21 constituencies of high impact, Gujarat which has 17 and Uttar Pradesh which has 14. States like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where BJP is in direct contest with the Congress have 9 and 5 high impact constituencies respectively. Also, there are 67 constituencies that have medium impact of social media.
What we discussed so far, to me looks to be more of hype than truth. I have my serious reservations about the effectiveness of social media in deciding the political fortunes of the nation. First, who are the people politically active on social media? Generally three types – mediapersons, retired/out of work bureaucrats and government privilege seekers and most importantly cynics whose disorder sometimes borders on schizophrenia.

The journalists are active on the social media forums generally to promote their writing and television shows. Your reporter is no exception. The debates that we promote relate to our writings and opinions and seldom go beyond. The retired/out of work bureaucrats and government privilege seekers use the forums to ensure that they don’t become irrelevant and at times promote their resume for the attention of the political masters.
However, the most dominant are, as mentioned, cynics with various degree of disorder. Their sense of cynicism, lack of balance and use of foul language in absence of any better equipment of expression often makes one wonder if their opinion is actually of any utility in the process of nation building. In most of the cases their attempt is to equate their personal grievances and frustrations with the problems which the nation may or may not be facing.

In such a scenario, is there a utility in addressing the Cyberia as the likelihood of the active participation of these netizens in the democratic process is very remote? Those who are promoting the political battle in cyber space may forward the argument that the virtual world is not only about the vociferous few but there also is the huge sea of silent majority, which follows these forums.
There comes the next query, whether this silent majority surf the Cyberia for the purpose of following politics. The answer would probably be -- unlikely. However, the political rivals having got themselves into adversarial positions in the cyber world will not find it easy to withdraw. It could be their compulsion but what is the need for media to give such attention to Cyberia.

This at best can be described as symptoms of lazy journalism, where mediapersons are allowing irresponsible comments to replace serious news. Instead of physically trailing a hardworking politician in the field, media is happy following a ‘hardly working’ politician pouting inanities and meaningless political theorems untested on the whetstone of Indian politics.
The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post

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