How PM Modi scores on political communication
He did not just embrace technology early; he has used it to deepen democratic accountability, reach out to citizens
Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has reached a new social media milestone, with 60 million followers on Twitter. While this number reflects his popularity, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
That story is about how PM Modi has used social media to communicate with people, establishing a new paradigm in political leadership. This is particularly relevant because political communication has become more challenging where multiple, often conflicting, constituencies and issues have to be addressed simultaneously. A leader has to be in constant communication with citizens, allay their anxieties, give them hope, keep them informed, provide guidance and boost morale, and communicate with the international community.
PM Modi’s early embrace of technology is well-recognised. In his seminal book, The World Is Flat, Thomas L Friedman wrote that while there was no email in 1992, just over the next 10 years, the world changed so drastically that it became difficult to fathom a world without emails. That is how quickly technology became a part of our lives. Modi was quick to understand the importance of technology in strengthening a participatory democracy, where the state is both accountable and responsive.
He has used technology for a democratic purpose and to ensure accountability. The issues of the modern world go beyond gender binaries of providing food, water and shelter. There are subgroups within groups, and all groups have to be spoken to and be heard. There are issues concerning children, transgender communities, working professionals, homemakers, even those who do not want to be classified under any tag. The democratisation of communication, which has been fuelled by the advent of social media, has helped trigger debates on all sorts of issues.
This has also put the onus on governments to respond to concerns and injustices. PM Modi has taken the challenge with amazing ease on the domestic front. Both in terms of messaging, and language — he has used different languages to communicate with citizens in his tweets — he has reached out.
He has used technology to ensure crucial nation-building tasks and fulfil governance responsibilities. Take the global context — the coronavirus pandemic, the climate crisis debate and the scourge of terrorism have led the world to adopt a multidimensional approach to communication. The need for government heads to talk directly to people has never been greater. In India, the PM has made use of his social media reach to do the needful on this front. For instance, at a time when Indians stared at despair with the sudden lockdown forcing them to stay inside their houses, Modi gave the country a sense of “we are in this together” by asking people to light diyas on their balconies and terraces. By that one act alone, he brought 1.3 billion people of the country together.
He has also used technology to enhance citizen awareness. We often don’t see tall leaders talk about everyday issues. But Modi is an exception. He spoke about people throwing garbage on roads and spitting in the open on August 15, 2014. His appeal to people to take to yoga to make health a priority now has made the world follow suit with June 21 being celebrated as World Yoga Day. His accounts have also showcased examples of courage and exemplary citizenship. He has recognised unsung talent, and amplified stories of grit and innovation that had so far remained untold.
Finally, he has used technology to ensure peace and harmony. The sheer size of the country and the magnitude of its population opens the room for many fissures and conflicts. But when a leader keeps the channel of communication with his people open, resolutions can be found quickly.
It is not just Twitter. To achieve these objectives, there is hardly any social media platform which hasn’t been put to use by the PM. To take his voice deeper into the hinterland of India, Modi took to the radio. With 66 episodes till June 28, Mann Ki Baat is a programme people look forward to every last Sunday of the month. From the economy to Swachh Bharat, from health and spirituality to beating the fear of exams, Modi has spoken his heart out to people and invited citizen participation.
With the responsibility to govern a country that prides itself as the world’s largest democracy, the fact that the PM is committed to communicating with citizens shows his democratic commitment and skills. The Twitter milestone is thus just a glimpse of what Modi’s leadership has meant in the past six years.
Bhupender Yadav is national general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party and a Rajya Sabha member
The views expressed are personal