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HindustanTimes Sat,27 Dec 2014

Information flows free in NDA era, just trawl Twitter

Zia Haq and Jayanth Jacob, Hindustan Times   New Delhi, June 08, 2014
First Published: 00:58 IST(8/6/2014) | Last Updated: 09:12 IST(8/6/2014)

When the previous UPA government decided to send the food security bill back for re-drafting amid differences, reporters had little first-hand information about the fate of the crucial legislation.

In stark contrast, transport minister Nitin Gadkari on Friday instantaneously tweeted decisions taken at the new government’s first inter-ministerial meet. Like him, most of his cabinet colleagues are taking to Twitter several times a day to keep the nation posted.

The micro-blogging site has become a one-stop communication tool, with ministers putting out real-time, bite-sized briefings about daily meetings, decisions and even personal thoughts.

“Met with Mr. Michael Steiner, Ambassador of Germany”, information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar tweeted, minutes after the envoy left his office on Friday.

This is a departure from the previous government, whose ministers rarely communicated on social media about official work.

Diplomacy is another arena where the NDA plans to harness social media with online galleries, sound cloud and an interactive Facebook page. The ministry also plans an intra-net website to connect with all its diplomats worldwide. “We want to leverage technology to showcase India and reach out to the world,” foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told HT.

The plan looks akin to what former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton famously called “21st century statecraft”, which involves use of technology to compliment conventional diplomacy.

The cabinet ministers’ free-flowing tweets also run counter to anticipations that a strong Prime Minister’s Office would tightly screen public information.

Javadekar has written to all ministries to use his ministry’s social-media hub to disseminate policy initiatives. Aggressive communication has forced the government’s official communication machine, the Press Information Bureau, to tone up. A back-of-the-envelope calculation by HT shows the PIB’s online daily news releases have gone up by over 30% over the same period last year.

The cue, insiders say, came from tech-savvy Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose effective communication skills are one of his biggest assets.

Modi’s first tweet as PM was a picture of him bowing before a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi in his office. “This creates the image of a conformist man…a positive image,” says Dr. Mahesh Chaturvedi, former professor of clinical psychology at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

According to analysts, the government’s new approach helps create an air of transparency, while ensuring only officially-sanctioned information is issued. Twitter has created a “channel for political participation that circumvents the established structures of political authority,” said media scholar Sahana Udupa of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity.


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