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From NaMo to PMO: Narendra Modi and the political power of social media

Monday, 26 May 2014 - 7:55pm IST | Agency: DNA
  • modi-social-media AFP

The first thing Narendra Modi’s cabinet is likely to do after being announced ministers is to go online and get themselves Twitter and Facebook accounts. Modi’s style of functioning and his dogged obsession with the online world will mean he’d expect his cabinet to stay connected. And so as Modi goes from NaMo to PMO, he will have added pressure of using his wonder-tool ‘social media’ in new ways in his new role. 

Having admitted that his digital brigade was at the core of his victory and election analytics, Modi faces the complex task of going from here to social media 2.0, and that promises to be a critical link to his perception building in the days ahead. His critics, both international and national, on social media, will avidly watch all his moves. So how is the new PMO going to use the digital platform? What should they watch out for?

1. Modi’s Track-II
In Modi’s own words, written on his blog, the “importance of social media will only increase in the years to come.” Having become a direct means of getting the pulse of the youth – the new polling population of this election – Modi will need to keep up the use of the digital media in a big way and stay connected with the audience that additionally helped him get elected. Having used social media as a megaphone to connect rallies and engage with people, Modi will need to capitalise on this constituency for something more meaningful. Additionally for a prime minister big on communication in stark contrast to Manmohan Singh’s silent-speak, Modi would be expected to keep up the momentum with his campaign-style gusto albeit with the stature of the nation’s premier.

2. Using SoMe (social media) for real governance
Should we expect the new PMO to transform? Could the babudom wrapped in soggy files expect a digital mutiny and a communication revolution? Yes, if the idea is to lead by example. Modi’s followers will expect that, having come to power on the governance and development plank, Modi will display innovative ways in using technology to his advantage. Clear files quickly. Get feedback with lightning speed thanks to digital tools. Can digital help him do ‘inclusive governance’? And it’s not enough to just crowd-source ideas but show that they are of use by implementing them. Outside of his sycophants, intellectuals, economists, discerning citizens and civil society follow Modi actively on social media. Can he channel the positive energies into policy decisions and implementation? This would be a logical next step to the massive engagement undertaken by Modi.

3. Keeping a close watch
Public relations and communication is almost like a ‘portfolio’ in the cabinet. And it’s far more real time. Perhaps Modi will do well in saving this for himself and his closest aides and play his cards close to his 56-inch chest. Social media is driving the news agenda like a live wire and Modi may yet need to closely watch all that his team does on this open platform. With several priorities, international travel and new responsibilities, it is evident Modi may not be able to micro-manage his social media, but perhaps that’s really what he should be doing. During the campaign days, social media built Modi’s image. How will he evolve from there? There are stories out there of people being arrested for passing around an anti-Modi message on Whatsapp. How will Modi deal with such stuff? We have seen what’s happened with those who try to regulate the medium. What will Modi’s strategy be? Will his government rally for internet freedom? To what extent?

4. Shaking Up
I would be curious to see how Modi and his team integrate ‘nic’ websites and bring them to the level of high engagement. Currently, most of India’s nic websites though effective are highly intimidating. Also, since Modi believes in communication, will social media now become official means of communication? As microblogging sites experiment with regional languages, the reach only promises to grow. I’m also interested in seeing how outdated systems of Doordarshan, etc., for instance, will change going forward?

5. Networked Ministries
An effective use of social media and digital technology ought to manifest in how other arms of the government get in sync with Modi’s strategy. Will it mean ministers have to play catch up? And then on constantly track social media for a mention – for better or for worse – from Modi?

6. Personal vs PMO
Modi’s own website – a brand new refurbished one that was launched on the day he won the elections – now shares his ‘personal’ side separate from his ‘governance’ side. Are we going to see the same during his stint at the PMO? Will narendramodi.in remain embedded in all digital communication of Modi? Or will PMO India bring the NaMo edge? 

Modi is unlikely to disappoint his fans and followers because they were the critical mass of his popularity which surged online years before mass media and television could embrace him. Despite the turncoats seen in television studios it’s unlikely that the new Indian PM will forget how critical (sometimes questionable) some Indian mainstream media has been towards him. Just like social media became his saviour, will he, in the PM’s role, use it to reward his social-citizens?

Shaili Chopra is an award winning journalist and the author of The Big Connect: Politics in the Age of Social Media. She tweets at @shailichopra.


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