So­cial­iz­ing Pol­i­tics

With In­dia pre­par­ing for the 2014 gen­eral elec­tions, so­cial me­dia is ex­pected to take po­lit­i­cal cam­paign­ing by storm.

Southasia - - Contents - By Asma Sid­diqui

So­cial me­dia will play an in­stru­men­tal role in the up­com­ing elec­tions.

So­cial me­dia is a highly use­ful tool in in­stantly dis­sem­i­nat­ing mass in­for­ma­tion. Apart from serv­ing as a net­work­ing por­tal, so­cial me­dia has played an im­por­tant role in mo­bi­liz­ing peo­ple as ac­tivists and gen­er­at­ing cit­i­zen re­sponse to po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties.

It is no se­cret that In­di­ans are proud of their pol­i­tics. How­ever, the slew of hash tags, signed pe­ti­tions, cause driven cam­paigns and paid ads on Face­book, have en­hanced cit­i­zen ac­tivism.

Where the elec­tronic me­dia re­lies on “news-wor­thy” re­ports and of­ten re­sorts to sen­sa­tion­al­ism, so­cial me­dia por­tals pro­vide a di­rect in­sight into cit­i­zen be­hav­ior and psy­che, with­out any fil­ter. An­a­lysts ex­pect Face­book to play a strong role in the up­com­ing Lok Sabha elec­tions as well as af­fect the May 2014 gen­eral elec­tions. By 2014, the coun­try is ex­pected to have nearly 80 mil­lion so­cial me­dia users.

A re­cent re­port in­di­cates that the im­pact of so­cial me­dia on the next par­lia­men­tary elec­tion in In­dia would be sig­nif­i­cant. Spon­sored by the In­ter­net and Mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion of In­dia and con­ducted by IRIS Knowl­edge Foun­da­tion, the study con­tends that the out­come in 287 seats of In­dia’s 543 par­lia­men­tary seats, is likely to be in­flu­enced by Face­book cam­paigns.

It is es­ti­mated that of the 543 par­lia­men­tary con­stituen­cies, 160 will be in­flu­enced in a tan­gi­ble way by in­ter­net-based so­cial me­dia such as email, SMS, Face­book and Twit­ter and an­other 67 will see a medium-level im­pact. The out­rage and so­cial mo­bi­liza­tion in re­sponse to the gang rape of a girl in In­dia and the ar­rest of two girls over their comment on Bal Thack­eray’s death an­niver­sary, is a true tes­ta­ment of how pow­er­ful a role so­cial me­dia can play. The in­ter­net used by 140 mil­lion peo­ple in In­dia will also ex­pand the reach of paid elec­tion cam­paigns and will open up more av­enues for vot­ers to crit­i­cally an­a­lyze party man­i­festos be­fore cast­ing their votes.

When the ques­tion of how so­cial me­dia is im­pact­ing the youth of In­dia was posed, young In­di­ans opined, “There is a vi­tal change. Cur­rently, Gen­er­a­tion X is en­gi­neered in the man­ner that it con­nects the most through so­cial me­dia. In­for­ma­tion is de­liv­ered in min­utes and the re­sponse is gen­er­ated in sec­onds. It is manda­tory to find sup­port for any po­lit­i­cal

ac­tiv­ity on the web first and then on the streets. In­dia is a coun­try pop­u­lated with bub­bling ide­olo­gies, which fo­cus on im­prove­ment in ev­ery sphere through ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion and in­no­va­tion in ideas. Th­ese ideas are spear­headed by the youth. The youth is the one, which is more open and com­fort­able with change. They can take chal­lenges and have the ca­pac­ity to achieve the im­pos­si­ble.”

As to whether In­dia is wit­ness­ing a rev­o­lu­tion akin to the Arab Spring, the youth of In­dia be­lieves that no rev­o­lu­tion can come un­less there is an evo­lu­tion of hu­man spirit in In­dia. Un­til there is unity and to­geth­er­ness, many be­lieve that a rev­o­lu­tion is not pos­si­ble. In­di­ans need to be­come one force be­fore they can face the chal­lenges.

Su­bid, a young so­cial ac­tivist and a de­signer in Ker­ala states, “So­cial me­dia has played a good role in In­dian pol­i­tics. It has helped in mo­bi­liz­ing the youth for Anna Hazare’s move­ment against cor­rup­tion and anti-rape in Delhi. It can play a good role here in the com­ing elec­tions too. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties have de­vel­oped so­cial me­dia wings for their cam­paigns. Ob­vi­ously, it is the youth, which has a role to play in this sec­tor. But I doubt if a rev­o­lu­tion is pos­si­ble through the web. Like any other coun­try, anti-govern­ment move­ments have a good hand in the me­dia and the Govern­ment as usual is keen on ban­ning and watch­ing the move­ments in­side too.”

Many politi­cians have read­ily taken to so­cial me­dia in ef­forts to reach out to young vot­ers. Prime Min­is­ter Dr. Man­mo­han Singh is ac­tive on Face­book with ap­prox­i­mately 62,900 fans. So­nia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi

(77,000 fans ap­prox­i­mately) are also on Face­book. Sim­i­larly, many national lead­ers have per­sonal and fan ac­counts on dif­fer­ent so­cial me­dia lo­ca­tions, such as twit­ter. This data de­picts a good sign, in­di­cat­ing that the or­tho­dox In­dian po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is wel­com­ing a new medium of en­gage­ment with the peo­ple.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers and politi­cians also need to re­al­ize the ben­e­fits of us­ing so­cial me­dia in sit­u­a­tions be­yond elec­tions and pro­pa­ganda ad­ver­tise­ments. Dur­ing the Mum­bai at­tacks the youth took the re­spon­si­bil­ity to high­light lo­ca­tions where blood was ur­gently needed. Tweets were sent from near the site of the tragedy and to the coun­tries of­fer­ing sup­port.

In the 2014 gen­eral elec­tions, In­dia’s pol­i­tics will see a new era of change, with so­cial me­dia ac­tivism. It will be im­per­a­tive for politi­cians to ac­cus­tom them­selves with this new tide of change for the party who han­dles so­cial me­dia the best will cer­tainly win the hearts of the peo­ple.

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