The UPA government may have decided to ask ministers to embrace social media, but MPs across political parties remain unconnected to India’s young population through new media tools increasingly popular among the youth.
Only 40 out of 542 MPs elected to the current Lok Sabha have Twitter accounts, including 7 MPs who no longer have active accounts, an HT analysis shows. In contrast, 12 out of 30 state chief ministers are on the web-based platform.
India has over 10 million Twitter accounts and despite just 10% internet penetration already ranks 7 among nations with most users of the social networking platform.
Twitter has repeatedly pointed to India as one of its fastest growing markets – unsurprising since the country has over 500 million citizens under 25.
And faced with a public relations embarrassment over the government’s failure to address social media driven protests over the recent Delhi gang rape, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) recently proposed getting ministers to use Twitter and Facebook to reach out to young voters.
But the statistics point to a failure to use social media cutting across party lines.
All 100 US senators are on Twitter, even though that country is aging while India continues to ride a youth wave.
But of the 204 Congress Lok Sabha MPs, only 13 have active accounts, while two others – external affairs minister Salman Khurshid and human resource development minister MM Pallam Raju – who started accounts no longer use them.
Only 4 out of 78 central ministers – Ajay Maken, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor and Milind Deora – are active on Twitter, though a few ministries including the PMO have official accounts.
The BJP -- widely considered a technologically more savvy party than the Congress -- fares little better. Only 9 out of its 115 MPs in the lower house have active accounts that they use to send out political messages.
Yashwant Sinha has an account but is no longer active, and Maneka Gandhi’s account spreads awareness about her NGO, which works to save animals from cruelty.
Nor are urban MPs more connected through Twitter to their voters than urban counterparts.
Only Milind Deora, Priya Dutt, Sanjay Nirupam (all Mumbai) and Ajay Maken (Delhi) out of the 13 MPs representing the country’s two most populous cities are on Twitter.
Only BJP leader Ananth Kumar, out of four Lok Sabha MPs from Bangalore, has an active twitter account.
Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune all figure among the top 100 cities in terms of number of Twitter users.
In the days following the horrific gang rape and eventual death of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a moving bus in Delhi last December, the failure of the government’s social media strategy was apparent.
Thousands of young protestors thronged Delhi’s streets and used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other new media tools to capture and communicate their anger and frustration against the capital’s police force and the country’s political class.
As Shambhavi Saxena and her friends, who were part of the protests, were allegedly dragged away by police, she continued tweeting.
Her comments were retweeted hundreds of times, having the cascading effect of negative publicity that the government wanted to avoid.
“Woman constable beat me up, pulled my hair, and slammed me into a wall # Parliament Street police station,” Saxena wrote in one of the many tweets that went viral.
Her mother subsequently even wrote to Delhi chief minister Shiela Dikshit complaining about the way her daughter and others were treated by the police.
Though Delhi police denied Saxena’s allegations, the complete absence of the government’s defence on social media platforms left the UPA cornered in a one-sided fight online.
Recognizing this failure, the PMO and the Sam Pitroda-led National Innovation Council have pitched a plan to get ministers and spokespersons active ion social media, to explain the government’s perspective on events.
But while central ministers and MPs across party lines appear behind the social media curve, chief ministers of the country’s states are more connected to young voters through new media tools.
Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Omar Abdullah (Jammu and Kashmir), Tarun Gogoi (Assam), Akhilesh Yadav (Uttar Pradesh), Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan), Raman Singh (Chattisgarh), Nitish Kumar (Bihar), Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal) and Mukul Sangma (Meghalaya) all have active Twitter accounts.
Manohar Parrikar (Goa), Neiphiu Rio (Nagaland) and Pawan Chamling (Sikkim) have Twitter accounts but aren’t active.
Some CMs, like Modi and Banerjee, also frequently use Facebook to reach out to voters.