The 2014 General Elections may be still one and a half years away, but to a conscientious ear, the war cries appear loud enough not to go unnoticed. The recently concluded Congress Chintan Shivir, for once, addressed the right issues. Elevating Rahul Gandhi, if anything, is an acceptance of the fact that the projection of a leader is essential in the next polls. The Congress Party, yet to identify the problems crippling the country, has been quick to grasp the grey areas surrounding the party’s prospects for a third term. For the first time, it seems that the Congress is willingly or unwillingly ready to embrace change. This is because Narendra Modi has been quick to recognise and address the pulse of this fast-developing young nation.
While the focus was on Rahul’s coronation at Jaipur, Congress also addressed major concerns like addressing the aspirations of the middle class and making its presence felt on social media. It is imperative to understand the reason for this change of heart. The Congress is in tricky waters because the social media and the new middle class lies in Modi’s domain. The neo middle class, as Modi termed it, is not the aam aadmi which has been the eternal Congress vote bank. They don’t depend on doles and would not be tricked by the populist measures or lollipops of reservation provided time and again by the Congress. All they want is non-corrupt governance and creation of opportunities for employment. This neo middle class does not prefer NREGA type jobs, nor cares for the Food Security promised by the Congress. India is one of the youngest countries of the world with a median age of 25 and this young populace constitutes a majority of the neo middle class. The young are known to ignore the dynamics of caste politics and rally behind development. It just wants the government to catalyse a change where ample opportunities to work and succeed are provided.
Social media has been a headache for the Congress for a long time now. Initially they dismissed the unpopularity of the party on social media as irrelevant as it is used by a few lakh youngsters who don’t usually vote! But this contempt for Congress on the social media is now haunting the party. It has tried censoring and blocking contents on the social media with nefarious motives, but realised censoring everything unpleasant about them is too arduous a task. Unlike the newspapers whose stand on issues can be influenced, the social media is not government-friendly and any article or a video has the potential to go viral in a few minutes! Realising this, the Congress now aims to set up centres to train its cadres to use social media effectively. This is a pleasant change when the young scion Rahul Gandhi chooses not to interact with the countrymen on any social networking site! The Congress has thus come a full circle from damning the social media to facing the social media!
Facebook is the most popular networking site in India and the world. In 2009 Facebook in its infancy in India, had a very minuscule share of the population and even lesser political impact. But since then, Facebook has become a force to reckon with. It was used widely during the Anna movement to mobilise ground support. Narendra Modi has been shrewdly using social media to his advantage and it is one of the major reasons of his emphatic hat-trick. In a superb piece of analysis in “How did BJP Retain Gujarat?” by CRI, the author notes that some astounding force mobilised and propelled around 25 lakh voters to the polling booths in Modi’s support. This astounding force was social media comprising mainly of Facebook! Now according to a survey by socialbakers.com which monitors the social media trends across the world, India has the 3rd highest number of Facebook users in the world. India added one crore users over the last six months to total more than six crore Facebook users. At this rate India could well end up with more than 10 crore Facebook users by the time the 2014 elections take place! Interestingly, more than 75 per cent of the Facebook users fall in the age group of 18-34. Now 9-10 crore people don’t look that big a number for India’s 120 crore population. In 2009 elections the total number of voters was around 41.7 crore and the Congress captured power by getting close to 11.9 crore votes. Looking at these numbers, it seems that social media can be the real game changer for whichever party that harnesses it in the best manner in the next elections! As of today, Narendra Modi is the most tech-savvy Indian leader with omnipotent presence on Facebook and Twitter and also uses Google Hangouts to good effect.
While it is still improbable that we would have a totally high-tech poll campaign in 2014, change is on the horizon. A situation where the educated populace, through meticulous observation of unbiased facts and figures on the social media, decides who his vote will go to, rather than petty preferences due to a myriad of social factors is definitely a silver lining for the Indian democracy.
(Centre Right India)
By Nirav Shah