BJP without WhatsApp and Twitter? Head or Tail, it’s the Government that loses
If Twitter bows out of India, it’ll do a great service by returning us to less manipulated media, though one hopes it’s not cowed down by neighbourhood bully. But in either case, BJP stands to lose
If you live by the sword, you invariably die by the sword. RSS and the BJP’s IT cell relentlessly defamed, maligned and questioned opposition leaders and targeted Rahul Gandhi over the past many years on social media. But now that they are at the receiving end, and the boot is on the other foot, they have egg on their face. They are also upset with social media platforms for calling out manipulated media and fake stories.
However, Sambit Patra's inability to recount the number of zeroes in a trillion to his inability to recite a verse from the Ramayana, to the US-educated Piyush Goyal not knowing how to distinguish between Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton to Nirmala Sitharaman's onion faux pas to S Jaishankar being described as a waiter by his own party colleague, the ridicule is all self-inflicted and brought on by their own lack of intelligence, empathy and understanding. Compared to BJP’s IT cell, troll army and leaders, the opposition have been civil by far.
Rahul Gandhi bore the ridicule with surprising fortitude and exemplary patience until fortune turned the tide in his favour and revealed he was way ahead of the BJP leaders and their troll army, whether it was about the drugs issue in Punjab, use of the term “escape velocity" in economics in the context of alleviating poverty or even his warnings to take the threat of COVID seriously. Today, no one doubts his intelligence, connect with the masses and care and compassion for the people of India, though there is still the odd Bhakt who fall back on years old IT cell tags.
Even the BJP IT cell failed to generate a controversy around an alleged Congress toolkit which ultimately earned it the tag of “Manipulated Media" on Twitter and a police case by the Congress.
BJP used or abused Twitter and other social media platforms on its way to power but failed to appreciate that social media platforms and cartoonists are intrinsically motivated by anti-establishment sentiment and there is no exercising any control over them. You beat down one, another will rise like a hydra-headed monster and, in the meantime, you only end up tiring yourself or making yourself look like a a court jester.
Perhaps that is why social media, which emerged during the UPA regime, was initially given a wide berth by those parties. Which, too, was not right because locking oneself into an ivory tower and disdaining to communicate with the masses only ends up in distancing from realities and enable a one-sided narrative from which the UPA suffered.
Communication with the masses is a two-way exercise and not one-sided monologues as in the PM’s Mann ki Baat, ridiculed on social media as Monkey Baath. Listening, rather than merely speaking, requires exceptional patience, restraint, skill and intelligence. Sadly, I do not think anyone in this government possesses it, given how they are pressurising Twitter to deny use of the platform to contrary views and attempting to bar cartoonists who today, following the capitulation of mainstream media houses to the current regime, simply have no other outlet than their own timelines on social media for reaching out to the masses.
But I can see the worm is turning. After giving in too often to the current dispensation, I can sense a fightback in Twitter refusing to ban a particular cartoonist, even advising him on the modalities of the action he could take against the government directive. It refused to give in to the government order on the manipulated media tag, it dropped the blue ticks from the handles of not just the Vice President but also the RSS chief (after mistakenly donating to one of its frontal organisations – I could have told them it would buy them no insurance!) and generally egging the Modi government on to do its worst.
I believe they have taken a calculated risk – the Modi government or even the BJP cannot survive without access to Twitter. Take away the little Bluebird from them and much of their communication and attempts to follow people into pursuing their agenda would be lost and they could even destroy their chances in the coming elections, given that WhatsApp is already at loggerheads with the government over its attempt to bully the platform into doing its bidding.
If the government dares to shut down social media in India, it definitely might be a temporary setback to some who rely on these platforms to communicate with people, but it will also do the general masses a huge benefit by returning them to old-fashioned communication wherein there would be no propagation of fake news, there will be less exhibition of hatred all around and none of the kind of manipulation and mind games we see on display today.
Of course, shutting down social media would mean the government and the BJP would be cutting the very branch of the tree on which they and the bluebird together sit. So, if they have even a smidgen of intelligence, they will know how they are axing their own feet and will blink first. For social media may have much to lose in numbers but a lot to gain in terms of self-respect, international accolades and eventually a return to India under another free regime that will be less of a bully and respect all the norms of democracy.
Rarely do situations arise where the loser on both sides is the neighbourhood bully. This is one of them. If the government shuts down social media or pushes them too far, they cut off their own noses. If these platforms hold firm and the bullies exit the medium, the country would be better off for the disappearance of the scum from our sight.
A subtle psychological warfare is underway between the government and these platforms. The Indian Government can only lose; and whenever that happens, I hope India will emerge as a better place to live in.
(The writer is a columnist and a commentator. Views are personal)