Modi govt @ 2: Govt befriends social media to ‘follow’ the electorate

  • Suveen Sinha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 26, 2016 15:38 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs a meeting on PRAGATI programme – an ICT-based platform, in New Delhi. (PTI File Photo)

At first it did not make sense.

“Why should I give an interview?” a minister asked. “I have so many followers on Facebook. What I have to say, I can tell them directly.” He waved away the argument that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, with 64,935,123 followers, gives media interviews.

It made sense a couple of days later. The minister wrote a Facebook post. It got hundreds of likes, and newspapers published it prominently the next day.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has befriended the social media like no other. That was to be expected from a group that won a landslide mandate in 2014 after running the country’s first truly digital election campaign – holograms, hangouts, and all.

At the end of it, the Prime Minister-elect used Twitter to herald the arrival of “achchhe din”. It became the most re-tweeted post in Indian history.

As the number of smart phone users in India rise to 320 million and the country overtakes the United States in the number of internet users, Modi and his ministers continue in the same rich vein of digital communication.

Whenever Indians are caught in a crisis overseas, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj takes to Twitter to share information.

Last November, Namrata Mahajan, on a train in Maharashtra, sent a tweet to railway minister Suresh Prabhu that she was being harassed by a male passenger. Railway Protection Force (RPF) jawans met her at the next station, Bhusaval, and made sure she was safe. In February, Ramesh Kumar of Jalpaiguri needed to visit the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) trauma centre in New Delhi. A tweet to Prabhu got his ticket confirmed on Dibrugarh Rajdhani. Junior finance minister Jayant Sinha was doing a Live Talk on Twitter on Wednesday on #TransformingIndia.

Human resource development (HRD) minister Smriti Irani can bring out the caustic quill, as she did for Priyanka Chaturvedi of the Congress on Monday.

The enthusiasm percolates. Several top secretaries are on Twitter, many on Whatsapp. The Government Railways Police created a Twitter handle during the Simhastha in Ujjain to help pilgrims.

Social media has brought the government closer to the people. But the Prime Minister has not stopped at that, and has built a Modi app, whose updated version Apple CEO Tim Cook launched on his recent visit to 7, Race Course Road. And that’s not all.

Purabi Pandey, 82 this year, is addicted to television news. A hundred wild horses cannot drag her frail self away from television between eight and 11 in the evening. But she sings a different tune some Sunday mornings. User of an old Nokia phone, whose radio does not work, Pandey yearns for the booming sets of her younger days so that she could listen to the Prime Minister’s ‘mann ki baat’.

Does one wish for more two-way interactions? Sure, and maybe they will happen. The minister, who was asking why he should give interviews, did give a few upon completing two years.

Full coverage: Modi govt@2

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