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Nation building through social networks

This February, the Planning Commission tried to play ball and be more than an 'institution.' It posted a page for the 12th Five-Year Plan on Facebook and opened itself to comments, tweets, wall-posts, status updates - even 'likes' from a wider and younger audience. Neyaz Farooquee writes. Netsavvy A-listers

social media Updated: Aug 14, 2011 01:41 IST
Neyaz Farooquee

This February, the Planning Commission tried to play ball and be more than an 'institution.' It posted a page for the 12th Five-Year Plan on Facebook (FB) and opened itself to comments, tweets, wall-posts, status updates - even 'likes' from a wider and younger audience.

The cue came from the Prime Minister's suggestion to take policy matters to the masses.


The enterprise works both ways. It builds the sense that you can - remotely though - take part in policy-making decisions by giving your comments and suggestions for the next plan.

"The PM said you have to reform the approach of the Planning Commission to involve the masses. It is too much of an 'Ivory Coast'," recalls Planning Commission member Arun Maira. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/14_08_11-pg13a.jpg

And the results are showing. Though there are less than 5,000 'likes' for the 12th Plan's FB page, it has received diverse and interesting suggestions on the topics for which the Commission invited inputs.

The Commission recognised 12 challenges for which consultation was sought through face-to-face interaction with the youth.

While users are free to give any suggestion, the Commission has listed the subjects one at a time to streamline the comment thread. One user commenting on India's black money problem, ironically enough has a solution that will be music to money launderers' ears.

Sample this: "No Income Tax for money spent on setting up schools in villages". The logic: according to this user, investment in rural education can actually help turn black money, white - and also spread education in villages.

Another user has talked about subsidy issues. He says India should take lessons from Iran, a country that tackled subsidy issues by slowly reducing it, rather than pressing the panic button.

For "richness" in response, the Commission also held consultations with the youth by roping in Young India, the youth wing of the Confederation of Indian Industry, a premier business association in India.

"The idea is to take the youth's views to the Planning Commission," says Bhairavi Jani, 32, part of the team.

"Say, for instance, education. The youth understand education issues better than anybody else since they experience it first hand", adds Jani.

For example, one user suggests that student participation in government programmes on the lines of rural internships be made mandatory.

The Commission plans to go on Twitter as well.

Though tweeting, with its 140-character limit for posts, is not ideal for attracting suggestions on policy matters, it can be "effectively used for publicity and polls", says Maira.

Government departments in India lack presence on social networking sites, barring a few exceptions.

Says Abhinav Kaul, another user: "Other countries have brought about revolution through social media but even after being one of the largest social network users in the world, we are listless."

The FB page could be a start in the right direction.