Tag Archives: Politics

Social media in India and its political impact

Here is a nice list of essays, articles and other interesting thoughts on social media and its impact on political upheavals and outcomes.

Many commenters and mainstream media journalists often condescendingly quip, “Elections are not won on social media, they are won on the streets.”

I totally agree. Social media is definitely not for short-term political gains. Right now it is too disorganized to manage concerted political campaigns. But it is definitely a medium that people can use to disseminate disparate information, and it is already being done. This is the sort of purpose right now social media solves in India. For instance, if there is a piece of misinformation being spread by vested interests, it can be immediately countered by social media.

Take for instance the controversy involving narendramodiplans.com. Someone created this spoof website that was basically a pirated version of a similar website created to lampoon Mitt Romney who contested presidential elections against Barack Obama. There was nothing wrong until the person who had hosted the website started crying that he was being harassed by Modi supporters and hence he had to take down the website. First the link was promoted by Twitter celebrities such as Shashi Tharoor:

And then suddenly the news came that the website had to be taken down due to the harassment meted out to the owner, or the webmaster, or whoever he or she was.

Go through this Storify compilation titled “Unfolding the conspiracy [narendramodiplans.com]” about how within a few hours the Tweeple were able to find that the entire affair was hatched up Congress supporters – a motley mix of journalists, politicians and its political trolls on Twitter.

Now, initially, even a person like me, who is a supporter of the BJP and Modi, was slightly pissed off the way the site had to be taken down but then eventually I discovered that the story of harassment was concocted just to show what sort of goons Modi supporters are.

To that extent social media is useful. It is also definitely useful for scoring brownie points.

But does it change political opinion? Can it affect election results? As far as in India, there is no concrete data that can prove that interactions on Facebook and Twitter can impact election results too. Yes, the opinion on the Internet, especially on the social media websites, is heavily tilted towards the BJP in general (mostly because they are heavily anti-Congress like myself) and Modi in particular (because people are desperately looking for a decisive leader who doesn’t bullshit), but how much this tilt percolates at the ground level it is hard to tell. Primarily there are 3 reasons:

  1. The penetration of the Internet and of social media is not as dense and deep as it is in many other countries despite mobile phones and computers
  2. It is mostly in English that interactions happen on social media websites and the vote bank that actually makes an impact isn’t very well-versed with the language
  3. In the country where people vote for parties based on who can give them more bottles of liquor, blankets, free meals and color TVs, (for that matter even naked girl dance parties) they’re not going to vote based on ideology and opinion

The 3rd point is perhaps the undoing of India. No matter how much people try and succeed on social media, unless people on the ground level seek political change that can actually change the destiny of the country, nothing concrete is going to happen.

I will give you a small example. My permanent address belongs to Sarita Vihar and compared to many parts of New Delhi, in terms of education and money, it’s a pretty well-off locality. But immediately after 16 December when the entire capital was simmering with anger and there was a huge anti-Congress wave all over the city, a Congress candidate won in the municipal elections for this constituency. We were shocked, really. So if this is the condition in a constituency that has educated and the so-called aware people, what can you say about towns and localities where people are less educated and more prone to voting for immediate gains?

So how should social media be used? It can be used as an underpinning for a massive information dissemination campaign. Instead of trying to change political opinions (most of these opinions are any way motivated and hence, cannot be changed) social media should be used to raise awareness and to coordinate political activities. One can get lots of timely information from social media and then use that information to spread awareness in towns and villages, among people actually walking and working on the roads.

When objectivity turns into conspiracy mongering

I normally avoid writing blog posts in response to other blog posts (by other bloggers) but there is a blogger I really respect (I think there are just a couple of bloggers I keep a conscious effort to follow) and when he wrote on Anna Hazare I was compelled to write this short blog post as a response. For what he has written, please read Anna Hazardous.

As such, the blog post by Sandeep has nothing new to say and easily qualifies as one of those “spinner” anti-Anna Hazare articles being published with great zeal, with so much repetition that it has metamorphosed into chain mail activity.

First a quick observation. All these the so-called experts on Indian democracy and the parliamentary system share the following attitudinal traits:

  • They hate candlelight marches
  • They think the Indian maudlin middle class is totally hopeless and even if it comes out once or twice a year it is a total sham
  • A protest is no protest unless you burn buses, people are lathi-charged and there is a general state of destruction and disharmony
  • What-if and why-now are their favourite refrains
  • Intriguingly, maybe this is a whimsicality, they also nurture an inveterate disliking for activists, global warming advocates, NGOs and social workers

So maybe the recent reaction to the Anna Hazare movement is simply a manifestation of the above-mentioned peculiarities. Having said that, since in the beginning I wrote that I am specifically writing this blog post in reaction to what Sandeep has written on his blog and since I eagerly await his blog posts, in this case, and for the sake of writing this blog post, I assume that it is more than a whimsicality.

Now, I’m not saying here that I am completely aware of the situation. I will be sincere here: I didn’t know about Anna Hazare much. The first time I read about him was when he received the Magsaysay award. And to be more sincere, I would also like to mention that people associated with him during this current movement, barring Kiran Bedi, have shady backgrounds especially Swami Agnivesh and Mallika Sarabhai. This out of the way, let me come back to what Sandeep has written and I would like to provide my point of view beneath that.

After quoting Shakespeare for no particular context he says:

–Enter Baba Ramdev whose rally in November 2010 is hugely successful. The English media dutifully relegates it to Column 4, Page 5.

–Enter Anna Hazare who on April 5 2011 begins a fast-unto-death-until-something-is-done-about-corruption “movement.” It picks up steam, is graced by various “civil society” eminences, and is generally declared a blockbuster.

Well too bad if Baba Ramdev couldn’t sell himself (or his idea) the way Anna Hazare could. Of course there was a strategy involved and I found him quite shrewd in the way he handled the entire affair. But how does that make him a villain? We obviously need smart people in the country who can manipulate circumstances for the betterment of the country. Kautilya would have appreciated that.

Regarding the role of media if media were so powerful then Rahul Gandhi would have been the “youth icon” (nothing short of a nuclear disaster) and not Anna Hazare. Media, especially Times Now and IBN7, surely played a constructive role, but they couldn’t have gone beyond a particular point.

–On April 6 2011, newspapers gleefully announce that Anna Hazare “tasted his first victory on Wednesday, the second day of his fast unto death, when Maratha strongman and NCP chief Sharad Pawar quit the group of ministers (GoM) on the anti-corruption bill.” What a slap! The nation is delirious with joy.

I don’t know what newspapers he read because every right minded person knows that in no way it was a victory but a small step towards the envisaged victory. It was a perfunctory action performed by a guileful politician who knew that nothing much was to lose. It would have been a small victory on the other hand if he had resigned altogether.

–On April 8 2011, the Queen graciously bows down to the wishes of this gentle Gandhian and on April 9 2011, the Government of India issues a Gazette of India notification to form a joint committee to draft the Lok Pal Bill.

The Queen was simply trying to be “begani shadi me Abdulla diwana” as more than 99% Congresswalas habitually do. They simply wanted to leverage the entire state of affairs and I personally feel, for the moment, it was sort of a dampener.

–For lack of information to the contrary, I do believe Anna Hazare to be a man of integrity whose commitment is genuine and has done good work in the past. But many things don’t quite add up and unless there are some convincing answers the nag of suspicion will persist.

Well, for lack of information you can doubt everybody. If doubting is the game of the day then first of all let us start doubting the credentials of all those experts who are doubting the intentions of Anna Hazare. I would like to doubt the credentials of all those who kept quiet when scams of thousands of crores emerging right left and center and now they are breast beating about extraconstitutional thingies and the hypocritical middle-class that doesn’t vote. I would like to tell these writers that it is this middle-class that mostly consumes their misplaced opinions, and not those villagers in tattered clothes whose only concern is the next meal.

–Cut back to the Spectacular Socialist Seventies when Mrs. Gandhi had all of India in her iron fist. What that alsomeans is that conditions so horrid that corruption was just one of the grave issues: we were pretty much under an authoritarian regime where inconvenient people simply disappeared, Indira was India, and so on. What’s the record of Anna Hazare’s fight against corruption and these grave national issues back then?

It is like saying why did the Indian cricket team win the World Cup this time? What was it doing 4 years ago when it lost? Or maybe something like why didn’t Sandeep share his brilliant ideas back in the days when there was no blogging but there were newspapers and magazines (I don’t know, he could have been writing, but I’m just using the Anna Hazare conjecture that he used — we don’t know much about him so we can easily doubt him)? I think it is a ridiculous argument even if Anna Hazare didn’t do something purposely. Maybe nothing moved him. Maybe he was too bogged down by his own personal problems. Maybe back then he wasn’t motivated enough. Who the hell cares? That time is gone, it is not going to come back, so why worry about that?

–The one thing that I see amiss is not the nature of his fight—it’s noble etc—but the timing. Why now? Why not say, when Madhu Koda looted his state for what it was worth or during the Adarsh scam that happened in Hazare’s own state or against Kalmadi or against Raja as soon these scams erupted? Is there some gold standard of corruption that had to be met before he launched his movement? Now, there was a lull from April 2 to April 8. If you want me to spell that out here goes: April 2 was when India proudly lifted the cricket world cup. April 8 is when the first IPL match for 2011 was held. Now go back to the papers and news channels between April 5 thru April 8. Nonstop drumming about the “movement” on television and relentless front-page assault. Now read #7 again. On which page does Anna Hazare’s news figure in the papers now?

Rhetorical. If we start the “why not this” and “why not that” we can go back to the thousands years of Indian history. No reforms in India can take place simply because these reforms haven’t taken place yet. We can never do anything constructive simply because we have been so destructive.

I think it was an astute move even if it was based on the cricket season. People were already charged up after winning the World Cup and there was a strong sense of nationalism brewing in the country. It was like hitting the iron when it is hot. Good strategy. Even if the movement was abruptly stopped before the IPL matches the organisers knew the fickle-mindedness of the Indian masses, especially the middle class.

And every news, I’m pretty much sure it also happened when we got independence, eventually is relegated to the inner pages

–We wonder what the selfsame media was doing when Baba Ramdev launched his protest. Or is it the fact that Ramdev didn’t go on a huger strike? Or the fact that he didn’t have celebrity societal conscience-keepers like Agnivesh, Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, and Jayaprakash Narayan who jumped on board the Anna Hazare ship barely before the anchor was dropped?

Just wondering. Would he have found the movement against corruption legitimate had it’s been Baba Ramdev’s successful campaign?

I totally agree that some opportunists conveniently latched onto the Anna Hazare bandwagon including Agnivesh, Medha Patkar (I don’t dislike her per se because I have never seen her openly expressing her views) and Mallika Sarabhai.

Regarding Baba Ramdev, again, I don’t know much about him but he does seem a bit queer, but then again it is my personal view (my parents respect him). Again, if his movement against corruption didn’t catch on than perhaps he did it in the wrong way. Let’s face it, it’s the reality of our time, everything has to be marketed through proper channels. Our generation sucks, I know, but we have to accept the reality and make the best of it.

–Had Anna Hazare undertaken a Bosesque “movement” instead of the Gandhian garden variety, what’s your bet how the government would’ve reacted? He and his supporters would’ve been arrested, lathi-charges galore would’ve ensued and the rest. The worst? Not one candle-kisser would’ve turned up because the occasion would’ve evinced not kissing candles but getting middle-class-asses kicked and lathi-charged.

What is this fetish about getting lathi-charged and ass-kicked? Cannot we ever rise above such animal behaviour? I am pretty much sure that had the movement been violent most of the people wouldn’t have gone and there is a psychology involved in this. Politics in our country is basically goondagardi. Go to any political rally and you will either come across villagers who have been paid by the organisers or you will see their musclemen. There are rarely “normal” people in these gatherings. And by normal people I mean people who can bring along their kids (even in their prams), their grandparents, their grandkids, their spouses, and girlfriends and boyfriends and go back home without being jostled, groped, molested, shot at or killed. My wife attended the sit-in at Jantar Mantar twice and she amazingly said that not even a single shoulder pressed against her shoulder and everybody was so respectful. What is wrong in that? Why are we always seeking maar-peet and janglipana in anything that can be called a socio-political movement. As our civilisation progresses, whether you believe it or not, more and more protests will be of such form.

–And so we repeat: why did the Queen agree to all his demands, and so soon?

So what if she did? Do you think people in our government have a backbone? They are the greatest cowards we have ever seen ruling the country so far. They must have seen protesters emerging from every part of the country and they were worried about getting things out of control. People had already started saying that they would attack the Parliament if something happened to Anna Hazare during his fast.

And who knows, maybe it was also something related to IPL. They wanted to wrap things up before the matches started so that there was no revenue loss especially to people like Sharad Pawar. Doesn’t matter what was the reason and who did what. The only thing that matters is things turned out to be the way people wanted it. Maybe it was stage-managed, but it was something really positive for the country.

–Developments after the Hazare Fast Circus ended only point to the fact that the Congress party has more than a sinister hand in the whole affair. This news item reports that Anna has asked Kapil Sibal to quit the newly-formed Panel of Pushers. Here’s a rescued-from-obscurity Gandhian who has suddenly “found” widespread fame, now dictating terms to a government elected by the people of India, all nice and Constitutional.

I think it is the way he talks. He doesn’t mince words. Even before starting the hunger strike he was just like that, if people paid attention back then. It is not about having confidence or finding widespread fame. He is just being himself.

We shouldn’t give too much credit to the intelligence of the Congress party and assume that it was stage-managed by these dumbwits. It was apparent by their body language and facial expressions that they were being screwed from behind and they could do nothing about it.

–Alleging that Uttar Pradesh is the most corrupt of all states, the Congress today asked social activist Anna Hazare to start a movement from the state if he wanted to start a state-based campaign.

Just so that it suits our argument we are now going to quote whatever bullshit is said about Anna Hazare and by whoever. Very convenient.

–Draw your own conclusions. I think that Anna Hazare is a well-meaning and committed individual but that he’s just being used. Is there someone who’s feeling threatened by Baba Ramdev’s growing and massive popularity and the fact that he’s promised to reveal ugly secrets of a certain party?

Frankly, I pretty much believe that Anna Hazare is quite prone to being used by all sorts of shady people and political parties and this is a worry. About Baba Ramdev’s “growing and massive popularity” I would say let the time decide if the Baba is sincere and deft. If he plays his cards well nobody can hold him back, especially the Congress party who is in power only due to the bizarre lack of alternatives (the BJP is a sorry excuse of an opposition party).

–Anyway, the circus has pretty much ended and the tents have been packed. The middle class has again deluded itself, which is how it should be because it deserves the illusion of power that the government is letting it have from time to time because it’s still not time for the middle class to realize the brutal truth that candle-kissing and assembling in parks doesn’t hurt the middle class and that lasting change is not achieved without cuts and bruises and broken bones.

Here again, coming back to the violence fetish. Whereas I totally agree that our middle class is quite fickle I absolutely don’t agree with the fact that you need broken bones and dead people to make significant social changes. Remember when people used to die because there were no medicines? Now we have medicines and the average life expectancy rate has risen. Similarly, we have different forms of protests. Things change, the way people behave and react changes. There was a time when decapitating people was normal and now it is considered barbaric.

Finally, I agree to some points and there are definitely some shades of conspiracy if you are hellbent upon finding them, but by choice I’m not an alarmist. I think candle marches and peaceful sit-ins have great potential provided they are used as mass movements, they will never work as isolated occurrences. Our strength is in our numbers are not in the way we express and protest. Even if you just sit together in multiple cities and do nothing it can be an effective protest. Even if we just wear black bands around our arms and then carry on with our day-to-day activities it can be a potent form of protest. We shouldn’t underplay such phenomena just because we cannot comprehend such things.

Arun Shourie’s thoughts on M.F. Hussein

One of my favorite writers is Arun Shourie and in one of his books he praised M.F. Hussein (the über painter who had to flee India and settle in the UAE for painting some major Hindu goddesses naked) instead of criticizing him (Arun Shourie is the so-called right-wing, anti-Muslim intellectual — I don’t believe that). He said that by merely becoming a painter he has taken on the repressive tenets of Islam that forbid its followers from pursuing any form of art. Therefore, since he is already a pariah in his own community, there is no need for Hindus to chastise him.

Did Karan Johar do the right thing by apologizing to Raj Thakery?

Many theaters in Pune and Bombay (Mumbai) had to take down the recently released Karan Johar produced film Wake up, Sid when some MSN (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) stopped its screening for using Bombay instead of Mumbai. Bombay was changed to Mumbai back in 1996. Before the British the city was called Mumbai.

Before proceeding further, please give your opinion on this issue using the poll given below.

Many, including Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, has said that Karan Johar shouldn’t have apologized to Raj Thakery and given in to his gundaraj. I feel he did the right thing. So much is at stake when you make and release a film. The problem in our country is that you will find people a-dime-a-dozen who will tell you what you should do and shouldn’t, but when it actually comes to standing by your side and taking on the onslaught they conveniently disappear.

The thing is, you can either be a crusader or an entrepreneur. For Johar, they can shove the name up their asses as long as they let him run his movie. It’s like being mugged in a dark alley (actually our entire country is becoming like a dark alley); you don’t confront the gang of muggers or try to talk sense into them. You simply hand over to them whatever you have and move in with life. Losing your life over small things is not worth it. People like Raj Thakery and his goons are like those muggers. If they are happy with a paltry apology, big deal, you shouldn’t lose your sleep over it. Give it to them and move on. People won’t even remember this after a few days.

But then, you may ask, doesn’t it encourage them to commit further mischief? Yes. Too bad. We ourselves have made our society like this by continuously choosing wrong governments election after election. Raj Thakery and such are socio-legal problems and they have to be dealt at the police and political level. You cannot expect (and shouldn’t) Karan Johar to leave everything and start a campaign against Raj Thakery just to prove a point. All he wants to do is make films and earn profits, which is quite a legitimate aspiration. Instead of urging him to stand up to Raj Thakery and his goons, people themselves should organize a campaign and show Raj Thakery his true place.

Vote Report India

Vote Report India Here’s another website tracking the upcoming Lok Sabha Elections, called Vote Report India. It will basically report violations of the code of conduct happening all over India.  The website packs lots of information and updates. The About page says:

Vote Report India will partner with citizens’ networks, human rights organizations, and journalists to contribute direct SMS, email and web reports on violations of the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct (PDF). It will then aggregate these direct reports with news reports, blog posts, photos, videos and tweets related to the elections from all relevant sources, in one place, on an interactive map. The interactive map will allow tracking the irregularities in the campaigns leading up to the elections, the voting experience on the day of the elections, and the results themselves.

At one level, Vote Report India will serve as a critical initiative aimed at nurturing transparency and accountability in the Indian election process. At another level, the platform will provide the most complete picture of public opinion in India during the elections.

Vote Report India is a non-partisan all-volunteer collaboration between software developers, designers, academics, and other professionals to bring transparency to the 2009 Indian elections.

You can see the core team supporting the website here.