“Truth stands on its own; it doesn’t need a prop.” Is this Mahatma Gandhi? No, it’s Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on Twitter.
Gujarat’s elections are near, but in the arena of social media, Modi has already won. From over a million subscribers on Twitter to a Facebook page flooded with “likes”, Modi’s net is cast wide.In political rallies, Modi roars with demagogic speeches. On Twitter, he displays a softer, brooding side: "Powers of the mind are like rays of light." Only occasionally is a political challenge thrown in: "Delhi Sultanate treats Gujarat like enemy nation but Gujarat will never bow."
A polarising figure still, Modi is often accused of avoiding action to stop a carnage that killed nearly 2,000 people in 2002, mostly Muslims. Yet, he has pulled off a stunning PR strategy on social media to showcase Gujarat as India’s Guandong, a Chinese province with top GDP rankings. Gujarat has posted robust growth rates, although its human-development indicators remain skewed.
Modi became the third politician globally, after Obama and the Australian PM, to host a political conference on Google+ hangout, a video chat platform. In the past quarter, he added nearly 24,000 Twitter subscribers every 12 days, according to twittercounter.com.
Modi has leveraged social media in a way the Congress hasn’t been able to. Unlike him, none among the Congress’s leadership, including Rahul Gandhi, has a personal Twitter account. “Our leaders believe more in transparent dialogues with the public, rather than spreading Internet canards,” said Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari.
Shashi Tharoor, a Congress MP with the highest Twitter subscriber base among Indian politicians, attracts mostly the elite, not the masses.
He jibes at his own government with irreverent tweets often making his party frown.
Yet, research shows that social media is more persuasive than television ads. Nearly 100 million Indians, more than Germany’s population, use the Internet.
Of this, the 40 million who have broadband are the ones active on the social media. “Unlike Obama, who used it directly for votes, Indian politicians tend to use social media more to mould public discourse,” says Sunil Abraham, the CEO of The Centre for Internet and Society.