Development not Digital Democracy!

Public engagement on social media came of age with the 2008 US presidential polls with the Obama Campaign leveraging the various social media technologies when it was an upcoming medium to connect with the youth. By the time, the re-election bid in 2012 came up; Obama had a crack technology team using Social Media to engage the crowd, for fund raiser and use the power of data analytics to tailor the electoral strategy. In democracies, perception management is the name of the game. Politicians had it relatively easier in the Cable TV era, Web 2.0 time is a 24×7 beast where impression micro-management is a total strain. Every little action performed by a leader is dissected by millions of pairs of eyes. The term ‘Public-Figure’ has indeed taken on a new life. With Modi Bhai and his 3D act in December 2012 polls demonstrating how technology will be critical in transforming politics.

Technology changes every two decades and so does the manner political communication is delivered to the masses. As ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ as was proved in the latter half of the 20th century, with the first presidential poll debate in 1960, brought about a sea change in how political leaders are held accountable.  Churchill would have never won a TV debate, because the fact is that he was not visually appealing enough;  Sarah Palin was a local beauty queen and Ronald Reagan, a former Hollywood actor and looking good is important for politicians now a days. Maharashtra Politician Raj Thackeray is known to use a vanity van before addressing major rallies. I have to add, he does have movie star looks as well.

Southern India has a track record of movie celebrities, making it big in politics. The era for show business entering politics is passé as politics is itself show business as the desi maxim ‘joh dikhta hain who bikhta hain’ or lossely translated from Hindi as whatever is seen, sells. The lines are blurred for good. Politicians in Urban India hire PR agencies to manage their social media outreach and over all image communication. Modi bhai is a leader in this domain, he hired APCO Worldwide to manage his Government’s lobbying efforts. PR man Dilip Cherian works with political parties, as does Congress leaning activist Sanjay Jha. Mr. Jha’s counter hash tag coinage of #Feku to blunt #CIIPappu ihas turned Twitter into a political battleground of trolls and visceral attacks. Social Media helped catalyze revolutions in the Arab World as well as mobilize the Shahbhag Phenomena, but it is in danger of getting hijacked from an honest platform for free conversation to one driven by manufactured consent.  

We do not caste our vote online yet and internet penetration is still fairly poor in India too. Technology especially Web 2.0 tools are awesome in terms of community engagement. Democracy is still fought in the heat and dust of Bundelkhand and not by the denizens of SoBo on their Galaxy Tabs. Communication is cool, but deliverable Development is the crux of hard democracy.

Tweets are not Counted as votes yet, Right?

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