Social politics vs virtual politics

Unlike earlier when the leaders were connected at the grassroots, leaders today are opting for platforms like TV channels to reach out to people which has made people disenchanted with politicians

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Badri Narayan

The form and content of politics keeps changing in Indian democracy. From 1947 to the 80’s, most of the eminent political leaders were close to the masses. They had intimate relations with their own people. These leaders emerged as mass leaders due to their oratory skills and charismatic image and influenced the public. Indira Gandhi, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Chandrashekhar, Raj Narain, VP Singh were leaders who had direct contact with the people. These leaders were able to understand the desires of the people through direct interaction with them.

But, a new phase started in the 90’s. India had just become a new liberal economy and the concept of open market was still new. This change was also reflected in the changing nature of the Indian State. To manage this new change in the economy, it needed political leaders who were also knowledgeable experts with specialisations. That is why advocates, technocrats, financial experts, economists started getting ministry berths in the 90’s and afterwards. So, the concept of political leadership changed.

Being popular among the masses was no longer the sole criteria to become a political leader. Such leaders with specialised knowledge started getting tickets of Assembly and parliamentary elections, and became ministers in various state governments and at the Centre. In many political parties, a group of managers, experts in public relations, financial management, IT experts and retired bureaucrats emerged as heads of various wings of the party. So, experts-turned-politicians, who had no roots among the people, emerged as organiser of the parties.

One can clearly see a disconnect between today’s politicians and the people. The only connect between the two in this new liberal phase is through TV channels. TV news and debates and articles published in the print media started reshaping images of political leaders. I call this kind of relationship between these politicians and the people as Ashtavkra (aath jagah se tera) relationship. In this indirect relationship, a new medium has emerged. It is social media consisting of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Mobile messages have also worked as effective media to disseminate political views. Nowadays, politicians communicate with the public through these media, developing a virtual relationship with the people.

Social politics, which takes into account our day-to-day problems, is the need of the hour. In our recent survey in various parts of UP, we found that people did not want the leaders who are talking for them only on TV. They want presence of these leaders in their daily life

This virtual relationship with people in democratic politics has three problems. First, it reaches only a limited section of the people who have access to TV and smartphones. We still have a huge number of people who have not acquired capacity yet to become users of these techno-communications mediums. Even if some of the Dalits, marginalised, poor and illiterate people in rural areas have sasta mobile phones, they use them only for conversations and not for messaging or interactions on social media.

Secondly, these mediums only tell and do not listen. It creates one-sided political communication. There is no way for the leaders to listen to the sukh-dukh of people. This generates dissatisfaction among the people. These social media-dependent politicians are getting estranged more and more from the real life problems of the people with every passing day. There is hollow communication.

Thirdly, this form of politics excludes a large number of people, who are not tech-savvy, from political roles.

This gap demands a form of new politics, one where there is constant direct interaction between political leadership and the people. Direct relationship with people who are still living on the margin of democratic politics has to be established. This can happen when politicians start raising local and micro social and economic issues which matter to people. The tech-savvy, specialised experts and elites do not reach the grassroots.

Social politics, which takes into account our day-to-day problems, is the need of the hour. In our recent survey in various parts of UP, we found that people did not want the leaders who are talking for them only on TV. They want presence of these leaders in their daily life. A villager told me very specifically that “Neta aisa ho jo sirf netagiri hi na kare, wo samaj ke liye kuchh kare.” The new brand of social politics has to raise issues like unavailability of fertilisers, irrigation problems, loan issues, rising price rise, etc. Flyovers and six-lane roads are not so important for them. A young student from a village near Allahabad told me, “Bijli, pani, sarak was important to us 10 years ago. Now, issues related to smaller things are more important for us.” So, they aspire for a new kind of politics with leaders who will interact with them directly, not through social media.

They are looking for leaders with whom they can share their ups and downs in life. A middle-aged person of Sahabpur village near Allahabad told me that “Indiraji remembered names of the people of my village. Whenever, someone from my village went to meet her, she used to ask about my father. Now, we no longer have leaders like her. Leaders of today are only visible on TV and Facebook.

This is not just limited to the villages. Even in the cities and towns, labourers, especially those who are working in the informal sector, want a new kind of politics which can represent their desires and requirements related to their livelihood.

(The writer is Professor at Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad)

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