July 4, 2013

Nasty political twitter war in India

by Indian Top Blogs

Sushma Swaraj (Twitter followers on July 1: 519,307): “They ought to be dismissed for being inept and incompetent…Those who cannot govern in crisis do not deserve to be in the Government even for a day.
Manish Tewari (7,790): “Did anyone see LOP's in both houses express sympathy/visit disaster hit Uttrakhand This from a party that criticizes visits of. Cong leaders.” [LOP= Leader of Opposition]

These were two tweets from political leaders of India on the recent Uttarakhand tragedy.

Use of twitter by politicians in India is not new. Shashi Tharoor (followers: 1,819,140) lost his minister-ship in 2009 when he tweeted that he was travelling cow class, referring to the economy class by which he had to travel as that particular flight did not have business class seats. We have seen occasions when politicians tweet, instead of making a statement before the traditional media, to give a nuanced message. For one, this gives them much greater control over what they want to say.

Now this platform is being used by Congress and BJP, the two main political parties, to score points over each other. This will not get any political gain to these parties but the urge to beat the other in virtual slugfest seems to be overbearing.

On the BJP side, Narendra Modi (1,814,719) is the most popular social networker, but he has avoided making a comment in the current tug-of-war. Sushma is doing BJP’s bidding, helped by juicy soundbites from party spokespersons to the media.

On the Congress side, Shashi Tharoor is the most popular Twitter personality, more because of his diplomatic and other discourses over the net than political comments. On the present controversy over Uttarakhand relief operations etc, he has so far been very moderate: “Twitter is not a substitute for action,” he tweeted two days back.

Recall the two key speeches delivered in New Delhi by the ‘future Prime Ministerial candidates’, Rahul and Modi three months back and the Twitter war that broke after that. BJP sympathisers and others created a handle #pappu to make fun of Rahul’s speech, and when Modi spoke, Congress supporters used #feku to deride him. [pappu= dumb kid; feku=boaster]

As Modi’s popularity seems to be growing among youth in the last few months, Congress has renewed its efforts to better use the social media. A rather senior minister, Ajay Maken, has been brought to the party to head the social media cell, a strategy is being drawn up to dominate the social media space before and during the general elections, and social media presence of government’s publicity organizations is being bolstered. The present aggressiveness on the part of Congress seems to be in that spirit and part of that strategy.

The next elections in India, due in 2014, will be fought on issues (e.g. corruption, inflation) and personalities (Modi, Rahul), and Twitter following is NOT likely to influence the poll outcome at all. Yet, the way Twitter is being used by the main political parties in India, it appears that many inconsequential yet highly charged battles would be fought on this social networking platform in the next six months.

You can read here ITB post on a recent survey report on Indian political bigwigs on social media.