We hear of how Congress is becoming wise to the ways of social media. A ToI report speaks of how the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has deputed “a team of officials” to track the daily goings-on in the Indian social media sphere. The Ministry, the report says, has also significantly increased its presence on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and even blogs.
While on the face of it, the Government’s growing up to the way of the web may be seen as a welcome development, there is still a vast generation gap Congress has to jump across before it can truly belong on the social web. If the shock with which Rahul Gandhi reacted to angry tweets against Sonia Gandhi’s speech at the ‘Chintan Shivir’ is anything to go by, the conversational spirit behind Twitter is something that escapes the Congress way of thinking.
The reason Congress seeking a future on the social web is amusing is that social media is the exact opposite of what Congress is. As several instances of the Government falling out with social media folk last year have made clear, Congress thinking is still stuck somewhere in the Emergency years. Thinking that will draw boundaries around national discourse. Thinking that will seek to determine what is allowed to be said and what is not. Thinking that will make distinctions between what constitutes free speech and what is not, owing to ‘reasonable restrictions’.
To accomodate the Congress’s way, the Internet will have to turn into Prasar Bharati — basically something governed, dictated, controlled and moderated by the Government — which has largely been Congress since independence.
The Internet, in order to become the Congress’s future, will have to transform into a media landscape populated entirely by left-liberal, marxist thinkers, scholars, historians and other assorted experts. People who would preach from Centrally-funded pulpits and fear no response. People who would feed their relatively resourceless audience blatant, one-sided views and label all dissenting voices as ‘communal’ or ‘fundamentalist’.
The reason social media, as it exists today in the virtual space spanning people’s computers and mobile devices, will not easily translate to a Congress future is simple — it is a reaction to the media landscape spawned by Congress during its rule of post-British India.
The angst that exists on the social web against the current Government at the Centre is angst that found no expression when the old media infrastructure instituted by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty was in force. The Internet Hindu hordes that seem to be overrunning the news feeds of certain outraged TV news anchors are a manifestation of that angst.
In order for Congress to have any kind of a future in social media, or for social media to have any place in the Congress’s future, the party is going to need to become an open, democratic, and conversational space. And that, if examples set by our silent Prime Minister, stone-cold Congress chief, and arrest-happy Union Ministers are anything to go by, is unlikely to happen any time soon.
This was originally published in Niti Central on January 20, 2013.