Millennium Post

Virtual risk

For an astute politician like Narendra Modi the use of social media (apart from the on-ground connect with people) in a way led to his victorious rise in Indian politics, paving the way for him to be the prime minister of the country.

Modi’s journey from being the chief minister of Gujarat, rising to be the Bharatiya Janata Party’s nominee for PM candidate before the Lok Sabha elections, followed by becoming the prime minister of India worked in tandem with his usage of the web world. He has and is still successfully using this medium to his advantage. And hence, the question: Is this proximity to social media distancing him from the real world of the people who voted him to power?

With the incisively apt usage of social media as a platform to disseminate information during the pre-poll phase, Modi managed to garner immense backing in the virtual world simultaneously gathering on-ground support too. This combination of the virtual and real world popularity led him to a colossal victory in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. But after all this, have things changed for him? There are regular updates on what the prime minister is doing in his government but where really is that mass leader who led his party to a stupendous victory?

Renowned historian Ramchandra Guha noted, ‘Talks and communication are indeed far more effective means in converging ideas than the improved medium of web and print.’ With a gradual shift from in-person interactions it seems, now, Modi is resorting to interact with his fan-following on the virtual.

Analysing Modi’s usage of social-media in the pre-poll scenario as compared to the period after he assumed office, noted sociologist Shiv Visvanathan elucidated, ‘Earlier, before the elections took place, Narendra Modi was a party contestant and candidate, and he aptly used social media to mobilise people and also the cadres (from RSS and BJP). But now as the prime minister, his style of functioning is different. To a certain extent he is one of the most active PMs. In fact, now, he has moved from electoral politics to policy making. That is reflected on social media as well.’

Does his popularity on social media indicate that he has lost popularity in the real world (on ground with his supporters)? ‘I don’t think he has lost popularity on ground with people as well. As a prime minister, he has different roles and responsibilities. He is doing what he has to do (on social media) in a different way now. People who have brought him to power know this. Now, they have a different set of expectations from him, as the prime minister of the country,’ explained Vishvanathan.

After the newly-elected National Democratic Alliance government took over on 26 May, several new accounts on social media were created to communicate with the public. Most ministers in Modi’s cabinet and are quite active on social media. These include- finance minister Arun Jaitley, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, home minister Rajnath Singh, urban development and parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu, minister for development of Northeast Region (DoNER) VK Singh, environment & forest, and information & broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar and others.

Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi is among those who recently joined Facebook. Nirmala Sitharaman has opened a new Twitter handle as commerce minister for official tweets. Also, after treading Twitter with an account registered on his name, health minister Harsh Vardhan recently opened an official Twitter handle for the ministry as well. Some other ministers have Twitter handles without an icon affirming it to be an official account. Some of them include agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh, tribal affairs minister Jual Oram, minister of consumer affairs, food & public distribution Ram Vilas Paswan and railways minister Sadanand Gowda.

Political analyst Arvind Mohan remarked, ‘According to reports, Modi is taking the social media platform very seriously. Apart from PIB, every ministry plans to have a separate wing for social media comprising four to five people. After becoming the PM, definitely Modi will be less vocal and active on social media, as things are different from the poll scenario. It is not that his popularity after becoming the prime minister has lessened, he has a new set of responsibilities which are to be taken care of now.’

Reportedly, Twitter India has been given direct access to ministers and their staff, advising them on social media usage, as well as organising workshops to train ambassadors and other diplomats. The interaction between the company and the new government has been described as ‘unmatched’ globally. Recently, Modi also met Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. After the meeting, Modi posted on his Facebook timeline, ‘Had a very fruitful meeting with Sheryl Sandberg. She pointed out that India is a very important country for Facebook, considering the high number of active Facebook users in India.’

‘Being an avid user of social media myself, I talked about ways through which a platform such as Facebook can be used for governance and better interaction between the people and government. I also talked about how Facebook can be used to bring more tourists to India,’ he added.
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