The origins of the word “politics” lies in Greek city-states, in the Aristotelian expression “ta politica” – or “affairs of the state”. But go deeper, and you find the word “polis”, which means “city”.
The sweeping verdict in favour of the Narendra Modi-led BJP may well have marked the return of the city in India’s public life –long dominated by rural voting
trends. Its genesis may lie in three critical factors: a demographic shift, urbanisation and the rise of social media.
For most of the years since economic reforms started in 1991, India’s economy has grown by an average of 6.4% every year, creating in its wake an educated middle
According to the World Bank, India’s urban population was more than 370 million in 2010, with 53 urban agglomerations with a population of more than one million.
In a nation of 800 million eligible voters, that is no small number. Alongside the urban growth came India’s own baby boom that created an estimated 160 million
first-time voters –who are usually said to vote out incumbents. Historians have it that coffee houses were used for animated debates in the British Enlightenment of 17th century – when what they called the Age of Reason flowered. A century earlier, coffee houses were banned in Mecca in the 16th century because they created
political ferment. India’s coffee house equivalent is the chai-shop, one of which has given rise to the man who is ready to be sworn in as the prime minister.
As a son of a tea-seller who helped his father in the shop, Modi may well have learnt the basics of social media as a child. After all, India’s traditional social media has comprised three key elements: the chai shop (tea centre), chauraha (street corner) and the chaupal (the village assembly point).
In the new scheme of things, Facebook is like a chai-shop, Twitter like a chaupal and WhatsApp, the chauraha of yore – all in cyberspace. Last year, one industry study estimated that the outcome in about 150 of India’s 543 Lok Sabha seats would be influenced by social media. Twitter reported that from January 1 to the end of polling on May 12, an estimated 56 million electionrelated tweets hit cyberspace. Facebook has 100 million active users in India, which also has more than 900 mobile phone connections.
These phones transmit text messages and its new cousin, the WhatsApp message. WhatsApp has 50 million users in India. Facebook reports that since March 5, about 29 million people made 227 million poll-linked interactions.
With 4 million Twitter followers, Modi has led a social media ferment that shows a quantum leap since 2009, when there was only one active politician in the micro-blogging site with just 6,000 followers.A new kind of Enlightenment has shaped politics this year, in which satires, quips, one-liners and debates on social media shaped voter behaviour, often in a two-way dance with mainstream media.
It was as if social media has come as a 21st century gift to the quintessentially argumentative Indian.