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Millennium Post

Seeking hashtag leaders

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg thanked social media for acting as an effective feedback tool, ‘an instant referendum on everything.’ Bloomberg knows it well – a three-term mayor of one of the richest city of the world, he is also the 7th richest American.  The water cooler has now moved on the cloud wrote Michael Schrage in the Harvard Business Review. Any leader who does not do his internal referendum is really not leading. Gone are the days when corporate executives used to feel the pulse of the employees from the gossips exchanged around the water cooler. They keep an eye on social media now; tweets and Facebook posts have emerged as critical medium.

The Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar said derisively that tweets are for birds. He has said what he knows and exhibited his disconnect to new technology. His comment might have led to mirth among his equally uninformed courtiers and grabbed headlines in a Modi-baiting Indian media. But the fact remains that no leader can merely depend on the courtiers to know the trends and take suitable corrective steps. Not only the likes of Nitish Kumar are disconnected to the aspirations of the young, they have little sense of history as well. Successful rulers, much before democracy came as a concept, used to engage spies to inform them on their subjects. Some great ones like Caliph Harun-al-Rashid even used to move around the capital Baghdad incognito to check first hand how his citizens had been living. The Indian legendary king Vikramaditya of Ujjain too said to travel within his kingdom as an ordinary subject to feel the pulse of his people. The same story is told of Emperor Akbar. In fact the Mughals had Diwani-Aam for common men to come and talk to the emperor.  No leader can depend only on courtiers to lead.

Lalkrishna Advani, the charioteer of BJP, is not as dumb as Nitish Kumar. He knows well enough the value of public opinion. He also adapts to the successful practices from abroad. For example before the 2009 general election Advani published his autobiography. He perhaps was influenced by the hugely successful book by lawyer Barak Obama ‘dreams from my father’ and that of Senator Obama ‘the audacity of hope’. He also blogs regularly providing contents to the media. Unfortunately while employing some oft-used technique he forgot to check the feedback. His communication remained uni directional. His ‘rathayatra’ before 2004 general election was the first hint. The reception, despite BJP being in power and he ‘the deputy prime minister’, was at best lukewarm. His disconnect to the aspirations of a young India was apparent when he kept on talking of the days of emergency in1975. A substantial number of Indian voters were not even born then. Advani’s campaign rallies for VasundharaRaje Scindia in 2008 Rajasthan state election used to be thinly attended and hardly reported in media. Despite the clear etchings on the wall BJP nominated him as the prime ministerial candidate in 2009. The result was for all to see.  Not only did Advani wink at the wall writings he never even bothered to check the social media. The micro-blogging site twitter created in 2006, now the third largest social networking site, is arguably one of the best instant poll politiciansuse. While USA has nearly half of the twitter traffic with the rapid spread of smart phones it is fashionable in India as well. A study in USA revealed that the largest number of twitter users is from the age group of 18 to 34 years. The trend in India will not be much different. Since the micro bloggers must contain their comments in 140 characters those who post there regularly can be assumed to be relatively better equipped with knowledge and language.  These are the target samples for any instant polls.

What kind of comments we find on Advani on twitter? From a direct comment, ‘L K Advani fails to gauge public mood’ (posted by BJP leader Sushil Modi) to pinching ones like ‘for the first time Advani and Congress share common thinking on Modi’ illustrate that the BJP supporters were not happy with Advani’s position on leadership. One likes to accept it or not, the fact remains that Narendra Modi received overwhelming support from BJP cadres. In a political party, if there is any element of internal democracy, the voices of the cadres must be respected.

In fact barring family driven parties like Congress or Samajwadi Party the leader in a political party must always receive feedback from the ordinary workers. United States has its unique system of primaries where aspirants contest for selection as a candidate. The pinnacle of that democratic process was reached when a one-term senator Barak Obama dared to dream and overwhelmed the supporters. Politically well-entrenched Hillary Clinton had to fall by the way side. Obama had used, among other oft-used tools, his twitter account strategically to deliver his message of change.  
From the Arab Spring to AamAadmi party all used tweets and Facebook effectively to rally people in their support. Books and blogs demand too much attention. In a busy life people do not have that much patience. Media is, in many countries, not trusted any more. Most of the mainstream media is viewed to be busy with plants. In comparison, social media is uncontrolled. The neglected ones can air their voices there and be noticed. The lowest ranked cadre can talk there openly on their delight and despair without check. That is why Mayor Bloomberg said governance today is getting more and more complicated. Leaders must always be on their feet and act.

Today’s leader must have a clear idea of technical developments and use the same for instant feedback. A leader cannot behave like a repetitive all knowing grand father. Those who refuse to accept the reality may end up as lone sulking figures in a corner.

The author is a communication professional
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