November 8, 2013

Blogs and websites of popular Indian politicians

A study of the blogging and web habits of top Indian politicians makes interesting reading. We have some general observations to make before we discuss individual websites / blogs:

First, on social media as a whole. 

Indian politicians are a confused lot when it comes to their understanding of social media. Most of them have heard that front-running social media giants such as Modi, Digvijaya and Tharoor are on Twitter etc and are good at it, but they don’t know what social media really is. They know that the young generation is tech savvy but are confused about what they themselves are required to do to engage with the youth. They are also not sure how much influence it can make to their political prospects. For some, it is something to be handled by back-end techies; bigger politicians of this ilk think, it is something to be handled by either back-room boys or their party or government staff. Most of the politicians seem to think, web media is just Facebook and Twitter or a website which they can boast of. Left parties don't allow [as of now] their politicians to open their personal social media accounts.

Second, on why they hate blogging. 

Politicians want quick return on the time spent on social media. So, Twitter is the best, followed by Facebook. Serious discussions that a good blog demands, in any case, is not in most politicians’ priority.
On Twitter, they mostly react instantly to witty comments made by one they are in competition with. Look at this Twitter 'dialogue':
A: Visited constituency today. Went through heat and dust.
B: People borne with silver spoon in mouth melt in one day’s heat.
A: Only he knows about dust and heat of village who goes there. Others make comments sitting in AC rooms.
B: Heat and dust picnic zindabad!!

Third, on how politician bloggers maintain blogs. 

Politicians in power use official resources – both manpower and content – to maintain their social media accounts including blogs. Some other resourceful politicians also seem to have a back-rooms to look after their social media affairs. Back-room efforts, however professionally done, do not look credible unless the politician is closely involved with his social media presence. It shows up more on blogs than on Twitter.

Fourth, on engagement through blogs. 

Hardly any politician blogger engages well with his commenters. This could be due to three reasons: (i) having opened the blog for the sake of social media presence, with no faith in the medium and no time for it, (ii) generally taking the blog as a one-way bulletin board, (iii) fear that engaging might get negative feedback, especially that engineered by opponents, and (iv) notion that engaging might get too many insignificant comments that are of no use.

Let’s give you a peep into the blogs of some prominent politicians of India.

Lal Krishna Advani, the BJP patriarch, maintains his blog well. A simple blog, it gets updated regularly with seriously composed and detailed posts on a variety of subjects ranging from politics to books and Bollywood. Political nuances in some of his posts have been making headlines on the mainstream media. The blog is part of a portal with many sections that are not always updated, especially the forum. The fact that the man contributes only his posts and others maintain the website is obvious as Advani is often addressed as ‘Advaniji’ [=Mr Advani or Advani sir]. Only if you are logged in to Wordpress can you comment on his blog. All comments on the posts that we perused were positive, harmless. 

Narendra Modi, the PM candidate of BJP for the 2014 elections, maintains a website with links to his numerous social networking properties, videos and speeches. There is also a comment box. 
However, we loved the earlier, simpler version of his blog, which was more straight and with his personal touch. Now the blog is lost; the present website is technically much more advanced but caters to fan-following rather than discussions. His Facebook/ GooglePlus and Twitter accounts take care of his and his visitors' needs better. 

Arun Jaitley, the leader of opposition in the upper house of Indian parliament, maintains a website that opens with his welcome video, which can be irritating to some. No-nonsense and very clean, the site portrays this man's personality. There is an ‘updates’ section that gives the latest information about him. Though in his video, he says the site is meant to reach the visitor, one cannot reach him except by opening an account on the site. 

Digvijaya Singh, the senior Congress politician who is famous for creating virtual controversies through his witty and half-witty quick comments on Twitter and television channels, has a website too. He curates his articles and speeches in a section called ‘blogs and writings’, thinking that this is what makes a blog. As of now, the content is less about his worldview but others’ articles on his bête noire, Narendra Modi and RSS. 
There are, however, two good aspects about his site: integration with his Twitter account, and a bit of his non-political creativity. You cannot reach him except for ‘enquiries’. 

Nitish Kumar, CM of Bihar, maintains a blog on Blogger platform, which is just a collection of his long writings and speeches. We believe that this is his own blog, as it links to what appear to be his official Facebook and Twitter accounts. The blog allows comments and in his latest post, we found many comments, all appreciative of him - as in most other politicians' blogs. 

Ashok Gehlot – Rajasthan CM – and Shivraj Singh Chouhan – CM of Madhya Pradesh - have websites clearly maintained by a huge official machinery. Gehlot’s website looks like a typical Indian government website - cluttered, in garish colours, made with too effusive PR rather than engagement in mind, calling him ‘honorable’. Chouhan’s is a more sophisticated one, carries his Facebook and Twitter feeds and has a contact form too.  

Varun Gandhi, the aggressive BJP MP of the Maneka Gandhi clan, had a website that is as full of ‘me, me and only me’ as Gehlot, Digvijaya and Chouhan. he site no longer exists.

Shashi Tharoor runs a website, as well-rounded as multi-faceted the person is. The site is very well manicured, does not show his achievements in a vulgar way, but lacks badly in interactivity. It does however link with his Twitter account.

One of the tallest politicians in India at present and Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, has recently started blogging. His blog has only 4 posts as of now and it is a simple blog, but has about 10 comments, some in almost worshipping tone.

An early bloggers, Arjun Modhwadia – the Congress head of Gujarat - converted his blog into a website for the worse. The new portal opened with his video and contained a blog which was a poor avatar of the website. The home page was technically rich, with audio, social networking integration, opinion poll, social sharing… but can technical excellence replace excellence of content? And then, it too disappeared.

Sukhbir Singh Badal - Deputy CM of Punjab - opened a website long back and has since forgotten that it exists. Omar Abdullah – CM of Jammu & Kashmir – opened a blog and is supposed to have closed it when people started commenting negatively on it.

Naveen Jindal, a young Member of Parliament and son of top businessman OP Jindal, has a professionally created website and it is updated too. However, the blog that is part of this website / portal is seldom updated. Not much seems to be coming from heart here.

Manpreet Singh Badal, the boss of the People's Party of Punjab, is synonymous with the party as most small parties are. So, the website with his name was the party's site. We found a rarely updated blog in his name but are not sure whether it was his official blog, as there was no link between the site and this blog. Both are now gone!

Ajai Maken, the head of Congess..., has a website that opens with an intro on Congress. It looks more like a monotonous library on him than a vibrant virtual website that one would expect from the head of media cell of the biggest political party of India.

Manish Tewari, the Information & Broadcasting Minister of India, has a website whose homepage looked like a replica of Indian government's web portal, in giving links to information on civil services, Indian polity, how to get one's driving licence made and so on. An information ridden static website of yesteryears, it had hardly anything on direct touch with him or a link even to his Twitter account. Then, he reduced the website to a page saying just, 'Respectfully yours'. What a decay!
Like Ajay Maken, Manish Tewari - being in an information giver's role - should have known better how to use social media to connect with the people.

The IT Minister of India, Kapil Sibal, opened a website that was good in content, styling and interactivity and of course with a heavy dose of 'me and only me'. The very first page of discussion board, #kapil, showed signs of his weariness in keeping it active for long. His earlier attempt at web presence was stillborn as his site was hacked. The new site also disappeared after he lost the general elections.

Update: October 2015: Rahul opens Twitter account @OfficeOfRG. Sites of many leaders whose names appear in black bold letters in this post have either disappeared or have become obsolete.

You can see here a number of recent ITB posts on use of social media by Indian politicians.