The Modi government seems to have taken the virtual connection with citizens through social networking sites quite seriously. After taking over the Prime Minister Office's official Twitter handle soon after his swearing-in ceremony on May 26, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made sure that the PMO had a presence on Facebook as well.
Recently, Modi even gave directions to his ministers to supervise the presence of ministries on social networking sites. Modi has told the ministries to entrust joint secretary level officers with the job of updating the Facebook and Twitter accounts at least in every 15 days.
PMO India, the official Facebook page of Prime Minister of India, was made on May 27 and registered more than 4 lakh ‘likes’ in just four days. A month after its launch, the official Facebook page of the PMO has attracted over 3.04 million ‘likes’ and more than 6.84 lakh users are talking about it.
The page has pictures of PM Modi’s meetings with high-ranking officials as well as cabinet colleagues and other political leaders. Every post on the page has thousands of ‘likes’, besides hundreds of comments and suggestions.
Following their leader, even ministers Rajnath Singh, Dr Harsh Vardhan, Smriti Irani and others have followed suit and opened pages on Facebook. They keep updating it daily about what was done in the ministry. The ministry of finance and external affairs has each more than two lakh ‘likes’, while the home ministry has just 2,090 likes.
BJP’s 2014 election manifesto had also mentioned social media and read: “We will leverage technology for e-Governance and engage proactively with the people through social media for participative governance and effective public grievance redressal mechanism.”
Narendra Modi and the BJP had used social networking websites extensively during the 2014 election campaign to gather support in their favour.
Though Facebook was in India since 2008, the social media platform became a centre for politics during the Anna Hazare campaign in 2011. More than 150 Facebook pages related to ‘Anna Hazare’ and ‘India against Corruption’ had emerged during the protests.
The UPA government which was in power at that time had tried its best to clamp down on the social media revolution. UPA’s social media battle was often fought by Manish Tewari, who was the I&B Minister since October 2012.
Modi had written in a letter on the PMO website saying, “I am a firm believer in the power of technology and social media to communicate with people across the world. I hope this platform creates opportunities to listen, learn and share one’s view.”
E-CONNECTING WITH CITIZENS
Facebook users who have ‘liked’ the PMO page say that they get an opportunity to know what is happening in the corridors of power. They can also give suggestions, ask questions and give general feedback about a particular meeting or a decision taken by the government.
But are these suggestions/criticisms and questions asked just a virtual pile of files gathering dust with no one looking at it?
Arvind Gupta, Convenor, Information Technology Cell, BJP clarifies that they definitely try to look at all the comments and suggestions. “Since the social media platform is under the public domain, we have to deal with a lot of information. For example, if Modi makes a statement, at any minute some 5,000-6,000 comments and suggestions come, which is difficult to monitor but we still try our best. Valid suggestion are taken up in meetings,” he said.
Netizens are elated that the government is active even in their world. “It is great that the PMO and other ministries are now much more active on Facebook than earlier. The government websites are boring and difficult to navigate,” Raja Durai, an engineer working in Gulf said.
“Social media has become a means for people to give their suggestions to the ‘high and mighty’ offices of the Union government which are otherwise out of the reach of the common man,” Durai said.
“Now that Facebook pages have been linked to many ministries as well as the PMO, people can freely voice their dissent or give comments on various issues that they feel need to be highlighted, scrapped or introduced. The most recent case is that of the railway fare hike in which people, though not criticizing the move of a fare hike, have suggested that free travel to government servants or anyone affiliated to the government should be scrapped,” Saraschandra, a civil service aspirant from Delhi said.
“I feel more information should be given on theFacebook page, as to what was discussed in the meetings. It will help us as we will not have to read the entire story from some other source,” Saraschandra said.
Both Raja Durai and Saraschandra have liked the PMO India page on Facebook.
The PMO India Twitter handle has 1.71 million followers and 187 tweets in less than a month since Narendra Modi was sworn in. Modi’s own Twitter handle has 4.96 million followers and 5,295 tweets since 2009. While PMO India on Facebook has 3 million total page ‘likes’ (11.9 per cent up from last week), Modi’s Facebook page has 18.5 million page likes since 2009.
With over 100 million Facebook users as of March 31, India is inching closer to overtake the US as Facebook’s biggest market, at least in terms of the number of active users.
According to comScore, a research firm that analyses and measures digital habits, India has around 82 million internet users (desktop only, mobile not included) and 85 per cent of them are on social networking sites. The internet user base is expected to grow 20 per cent year on year and those on social networking will increase by 25 per cent.
According to research firm eMarketer’s projections, Facebook users in India will hit 108.9 million by the end of this year from 77.8 million in 2013. The firm estimates the user base in the world's second most populous country to swell to 136.3 million in 2015 and 211.2 million in 2018.