Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday night tweeted that on he was considering leaving social media on Sunday. (The irony of announcing this on social media was lost on some.) Even after six years of watching the PM in action, many still did not recognise the tweet for what it was: a gimmick. There was a hubbub on Twitter; one emotional right-wing handle claimed that if the PM left, she too would leave social media forever. The PM’s threat was never going to be permanent — his party has most effectively used social media such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp as weapons in the political fight to dominate the public narrative and to gain power. Social media is the BJP’s Brahmastra.
As the PM himself on Tuesday confirmed, he would leave social media only for a day. Sunday is International Women’s Day, and the PM’s handle would be devoted to the posts by women who inspire him. One can safely conclude such women do not include journalists like Rana Ayyub, who conducted an undercover investigation to detail the extent of the conspiracy behind the 2002 Gujarat riots, or Swati Chaturvedi, whose book, I Am a Troll, details the BJP’s well-oiled sinister propaganda machine (and attack dogs) on social media.
The PM has always been seen to support the cause of women, as with the “Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao” slogan, even though the Women’s Reservation Bill continues to languish in a parliamentary limbo for over two decades. So what was the big deal about him staying off social media on Sunday? Could it have been part of carefully crafting an image of ascetic detachment from the world? Is he trying to be the distant but benevolent father of the nation that his COO, home minister Amit Shah, is running?
More likely it was to distract from the unfavourable social media coverage the international community was witnessing on account of the Delhi riots. It is not just the usual suspects that have expressed concern at the police-aided violence against those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Even the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has filed an application on the CAA in the Supreme Court, and India’s long-standing friend Iran called it a “wave of organised violence against Indian Muslims” and “senseless thuggery”. The PM was shaken and so reached into his bag of gimmicks.
With followers threatening to boycott social media platforms, the PM accomplished another aim: to frighten the social media platforms that they risked losing millions of users and thereby significant revenue. While the PM’s minions spoke of starting an “Indian” social media platform, this is mere posturing. In the coming days, expect the PM’s men to try arm-twisting Twitter, etc, to tighten the screws on those Indians who insist on giving the violence against anti-CAA protesters anything other than a right-wing spin. Having seen Jack Dorsey and others in action, one cannot be optimistic that social media platforms will forever remain free and open to speak truth to power.