Netas And The Net
In Delhi, the Congress has set up a help desk for its workers keen to learn the ways of social media and started its own social networking site for party workers called Khidkee.com. And at a recent workshop for Congress spokespersons, Rahul Gandhi told party members to be dignified while speaking on behalf of the party and to make good use of social media in the run-up to the 2014 elections. (One of Gandhi’s diktats was soon broken when Congress workers in Mumbai behaved in an entirely undignified manner, by forcing Aditi restaurant in Parel to close for printing the owner’s opinion of the ruling party – one that many people share – on its bills.)
The idea behind encouraging netas to get on to Twitter and Facebook is no doubt to influence the country’s growing Internet-savvy vote bank and counter Narendra Modi’s propaganda blitzkrieg on social media sites. According to this report, Modi has roped in two Internet mavens, Rajesh Jain and B.G. Mahesh, to manage his social media campaign. Now there’s no shortage of national level politicians who’ve long been active on social media. Modi, Shashi Tharoor, Sushma Swaraj, Milind Deora and Omar Abdullah are active on Twitter; Mamata Banerjee is a regular Facebook user; and L.K. Advani is an avid blogger. The Indian Express recently reported that now, even local netas are beginning to woo voters by getting on Twitter and Facebook and creating websites.
Pramod Mandrekar, a member of the Congress party and former corporator, is on Facebook. “At times it helps to reach out to more people,” he said. “You can write down a message and it can be passed around.” But looking at their efforts, it’s obvious that they need help. For instance, a number of the Congress workers on Facebook have similar pages. There’s the regulation photograph of at least one of the Gandhis, usually heir apparent Rahul Gandhi, and the posts are limited to photographs of inaugurations and party activities. Take the Facebook page of Vilasbhau Rupawate, the general secretary of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC). It has a photo of Rahul Gandhi with two children on the occasion of Guru Purnima; another photo of his that says “Save Tree”; several posts on new schemes initiated by the Congress; a poster wishing Rahul Gandhi happy birthday and so on. Rupawate’s boss, MPCC president Manikrao Thakre, is a sporadic Twitter user who last Tweeted in February. Most of his Tweets are homilies such as “Relationship is possible, only when two egos are dropped”; “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light”; and “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him.”
Similarly partial to clichés, MPCC secretary Manoj Shinde has filled his Facebook page with posts such as, “Umbrella can’t stop the rain but can make us stand in the rain. Confidence may not bring success but gives us power to face any challenges.” The Opposition doesn’t fare much better. Shiv Sena leader and chairman of the BMC standing committee chairman Rahul Shewale joined Twitter in January 2011 and last Tweeted in March of that year. His website is entirely in Marathi thereby excluding non-Marathi speakers. Aditya Thackeray is meant to be the party’s modern, tech-savvy face, but his Facebook page is composed of mostly sundry messages for his party workers and the odd post on a topical issue. And BJP Mumbai president Ashish Shelar’s Facebook page is another list of party activities such as medical camps that have been initiated, dustbins that have been distributed, and book launches that he has graced.
Despite the claim the Indian Express story makes, there are few corporators and local politicians who make use of social networking. Fewer still seem to have the skill or inclination to use the medium to generate debate. All they’re interested in is broadcasting their achievements and sharing their rather dull thoughts. Perhaps our local elected representatives might benefit from guidance by their glibbest counterparts. That would be Indian polity’s two most prolific Twitter users, the Congress’s Shashi Tharoor and the BJP’s Narendra Modi. Though Tharoor, who was till recently the reigning political champion on Twitter, must have been miffed when Modi took over. While Tharoor currently has 1,846,176 followers, Modi is ahead with 1,959,339 followers.