He may be the second-most followed world leader on Twitter, but over the last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has faced what is arguably its worst phase on social media since coming to power in May 2014.
The Dadri murder last month, which sparked outrage across the nation and led to several symbolic protests, emerged as the trigger point. And while the issue was slowly falling off the social media radar, this week’s killing of two Dalit children in Faridabad brought back the debate over the government’s failure to tackle rising intolerance in the country.
And social media, where PM Modi is undoubtedly numero uno in the country, was quick to serve him his worst moment. A quick Twitter analysis over the last month (seen below) shows how the two topics – Dadri and Dalit – have played out.
While the initial reaction to the Dadri murder – where a man was lynched over rumours of him consuming beef – was seen as an incident of communal violence, it soon shifted to the Prime Minister’s continued silence — even refusing to comment on his own party colleague Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma’s controversial remarks.
But what sparked off anger, was his tweet to party colleague Navjot Singh Sindhu who was hospitalised over a heart ailment. And quite obviously, an already enraged twitterati slammed the Prime Minister for refusing to make a statement on the Dadri episode, questioning whether he had his priorities right.
— Aparna Bhattacharya (@chhuti_is) October 7, 2015
What does it say about our Hon PM that Sidhu’s DVT (blood clot) got more attention from him that #Ikhlaq‘s cold blooded murder did!!!!
— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) October 7, 2015
— Susu Fan Club®™ (@SusuSwamyFC) October 7, 2015
@narendramodi still no word on.Dadri incident.. Priorities need to be set What a shame
— Pratik Khobragade (@PratikMSC_Jones) October 7, 2015
While PM Modi did eventually break his silence in an interview to ABP in Kolkata, terming the incident as ‘sad’, his party’s inability to rein in their leaders ensured that social media refused to let the issue die down. While Twitter and Facebook, over the last month have seen a topic related to the Dadri episode trend through the day, user search interest also showed a spike (see graphs at end).
From Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s remarks on Muslims eating beef to Union Minister Gen VK Singh’s ‘dog’ remark on the burning alive of two Dalit children, the party’s attempts to issue a gag order of sorts on their leaders, has pretty much failed.
This, even as party chief Amit Shah, realising that the controversy was damaging his party’s prospects in the crucial ongoing Bihar elections, held a meeting with several of the party’s ‘motormouths’ asking them to refrain from making any controversial remarks.
Earlier this month, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar admitted that the issue was hurting his party and his government’s image.
Just today, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh came down heavily on his cabinet colleague Gen V K Singh, saying “one cannot just get away by saying their statement was misinterpreted.”
But will this ‘negative sentiment’ against the BJP have a long-term impact? Unlikely.
The BJP’s social media brigade is unbeatable, for now. Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to run for the top job, the party has focussed specifically on building a strong, favourable audience across social media platforms.
Moreover, Modi’s focus, since day one of taking over, has been on building a vibrant social media presence for his government’s achievements. From tweeting to world leaders, to crowdsourcing ideas for his government’s initiatives, Modi has till now got his strategy right.
PM Modi has managed – directly or indirectly – to make social media the main engagement platform. Almost all his Cabinet colleagues and their ministries have active Twitter and Facebook profiles, which actively engage with followers. Further, the impact of his efforts are felt even more given the last government had an almost zero presence on the web.
While the mood in the BJP camp, for now, is one of anxiety, luckily for the BJP government, their social media efforts may just ensure they slip through this #Fail moment.
Google data analysing user search trends