Tweeting up the votes

In the recent polls, PM Modi used social media in ways that flattened out the political terrain

Written by Pamela Philipose | Published:March 17, 2017 12:00 am
UP elections, election results, narendra modi, modi BJP, UP BJP, modi twitter, modi tweets, india news On the polling day of every phase, Modi unfailingly tweeted that everybody must vote. PTI Photo

That silvery, almost spectral, vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi promising a “New India”, beamed live on television screens and circulating endlessly on social media, defined not just the personalised nature of the BJP campaign, but its highly mediatised nature. It recalled the 2014 general election campaign which changed forever political media use and messaging in India. Many of these strategies emerged from Modi’s personal understanding of how media power can be harnessed in a totalising way that intermeshes every media platform and info-tech tool. The level of sophistication he has brought to the use of social media far outstrips that of any political leader in India and, possibly, that of all but a few internationally.

Here, let us consider how Twitter was deployed. The basic template, first used in the 2014 campaign, continues to be in place. The major difference is that Modi’s own presence on Twitter has grown exponentially, with followers having gone from 5 million in mid-2014 to 27.5 million today. Even after accounting for fake ids and bots, this is a huge number, the population of a small state. True, these followers are geographically dispersed, but a significant number would constitute a fairly homogeneous political community committed to Modi’s politics and, as in the real world, draw strength, content and ideological endorsement from each other. Every tweet that goes out to this universe — favourited, retweeted, hashtagged and taking root on other media platforms — has infinite lives.

What was conspicuous about the 500-odd tweets, in both Hindi and English, put out between January 1 and March 8 was their perfect synchrony with the election campaign’s changing contours. Although generated by a professional team, they appeared intuitive and intimate and aimed singularly to tweet up the votes. Consider the way each Modi rally was transported from its geographic location to the virtual space through strategic tweeting. As each phase kicked in, images of overflowing crowds created the impression that “everybody” was on Modi’s side. This was designed to create the classic bandwagon effect where even those not on board clambered on for fear of isolation. Occasionally, for additional credibility, someone else’s comment on the size of the crowds was retweeted, like Joy Chowdhury’s observation in late February: “Did anyone see the sea of humanity @rally in #UP? Surely an undercurrent flowing which pollsters missed.”

On the polling day of every phase, Modi unfailingly tweeted that everybody must vote. A March 4 tweet went: “This is the sixth phase of the elections. I appeal to all voters to partake in the festival of democracy with enthusiasm, voting is a must.” This was a general advisory in keeping with Election Commission (EC) specifications that there should be no soliciting of votes on voting day, but the coded message to vote BJP was unmistakable. To drive the point home, there was also the retweeting of images of supporters who had voted, a tactic first deployed in 2014. Alok Kumar Dubey tweeted a picture of himself with two pals, holding up inked fingers with the text: “Today we cast our vote… Everyone voted for BJP.”

In 2014, selfies were big in the BJP campaign. This time too, there was a focus on youth-friendly subjects like sports and info-tech. When the digital app, BHIM, was launched in January, Modi tweeted, “BHIM App has made transactions faster and easier, thus making it popular among the youth.” It received 13,781 likes, with Chintan Thakkar tweeting: “Sir, BHIM app is one of the best gifts you have given to India in the journey of digitisation. Thank you.” Those drawn into the conversation were sometimes even younger. Modi retweeted Adyasha Kar’s words: “Had heard your #for students before my 10th and again before my 12th boards. Thank you for motivating and being with us.” When a schoolboy tweets thus, it would indicate a long-term strategy of priming future generations.

The broadcasting of ‘Mann ki Baat’ during the election period was controversial. It was only on condition that he stuck to non-election themes was clearance given. Yet, in a frenetic election season, even innocuous statements on “nari shakti” gain electoral wings. Care was taken to avoid overtly communal statements this time and there were no tweets of the shamshan-kabristan variety. The appeal to Hindu sentiments, however, was unambiguous. Just as he had done in 2014, Modi began his campaigning with a visit to Tirupati’s Sri Venkateswara Swamy temple on January 3, a day before election dates were announced. The last phase too was busy with images of temple visitations, ending with his prayers at the Somnath temple on March 8. Even as voting was on in eastern UP, he tweeted: “Jai Somnath.”

It touched an immediate chord. Siddharth Pai, for one, came back with “Har Har Mahadev… like Sardar Patel reinstated Somanath temple. Wish you rebuild majestic ram Mandir in #Ayodhya.” The way in which the Somnath-Ayodhya temple connect could be so emphatically established would indicate that Modi’s tweets, while not appearing to polarise, were in fact remarkably effective in doing so. Their virtuality in no way undermined their viscerality.

Everything was thrown into these tweets, from budget promises and visits of foreign dignitaries like the Portuguese PM, to random observations on “hardworking farmers”. They coalesced the images of Modi as PM/fighter of corruption /friend/benefactor/indefatigable campaigner into that of “Modi, the Saviour”. The Pied Piper call of “sabka saath, sabka vikas” sounded from every mobile phone, flattening out the political terrain.

This carefully constructed multimedia panopticon is more successful than anything conjured up by old-style political propaganda, because of the ownership that is vested in it by the recipients of its messaging. What we have left is a political landscape shorn of an opposition, a politics rampant with majoritarian impulses, and a public discourse devoid of counter voices.

The writer is a senior journalist

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  1. I
    indian
    Mar 17, 2017 at 4:36 pm
    Another attempt to minimize BJP's win. Get over it "seculars"
    Reply
    1. S
      Ssd
      Mar 17, 2017 at 3:34 am
      Madam aapko journalist kisne banaya?
      Reply
      1. P
        PPrasad78
        Mar 17, 2017 at 10:48 pm
        It is NOT Modi's masterful usage of Social Media, but because voters had enough of the corrupt, incompetent and communal leftist sickularist parties !
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        1. R
          Rajat
          Mar 17, 2017 at 12:23 pm
          Another sore loser.
          Reply
          1. Z
            zizek
            Mar 17, 2017 at 5:21 am
            Since Modi has won, I have not read a single piece about the developmental problems that UP is facing and the ways to go about solving it. Agreed that it is a huge victory, but the more important task is the development of the state, is it not? Where are the journalists who can point out the problems UP is facing?
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            1. J
              Joe
              Mar 17, 2017 at 7:19 am
              I read your words and responded to them and you just don't want to acknowledge the similar hypocrisy or contradiction in spin of the party you support.
              Reply
              1. A
                Ajay G
                Mar 17, 2017 at 4:08 pm
                Tricks do not make any leader great. Vote in UP is for a CHANGE. If that does not happen, tweets will be useless.
                Reply
                1. A
                  ak dev
                  Mar 17, 2017 at 11:55 am
                  Anti-Modi politics has no positive agenda. They only abuse and accuse Modi. People don't want to go back to UPA rule and opposition has nothing else to offer.
                  Reply
                  1. A
                    ak dev
                    Mar 17, 2017 at 1:39 am
                    Medium such social media is though important from performance point of view but message content and credibility of the speaker / sender is of prime importance. Modi has credibility and ability to frame right content. Modi's opponents message content is full of reaction to Modi's message plus abuses and accusations and the speakers have no or low credibility.
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                    1. A
                      ak
                      Mar 17, 2017 at 8:20 am
                      And yes ..!! They should point that out and immediately blame Modi immediately for all the issues of UP .. Why did he not fix all the issues in 2 hours after the results !! He promised !!
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                      1. M
                        Moloy Aich
                        Mar 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm
                        A well crafted strategy. But I heard hundreds of volunteers working for AAP in Chandigarh.
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                        1. B
                          Bhola
                          Mar 17, 2017 at 9:54 am
                          MAA'M DO YOU EVER FEEL THAT RAHUL BABA WILL EVER BE A PATCH ON MODI.SO STOP ARGUING. SMALL TOWN AND VILLAGE PEOPLE DO'NT FOLLOW TWITER ,THE FEEL THE CHANGE AT GROUND LEVEL . IF YOU HAVE ANY KID IN YOUR HOME OR NEIGHBORHOOD ASK WHOM THEY LIKE MODI OR RAHUL ,YOU WILL GET THE ANSWER .
                          Reply
                          1. V
                            vidya
                            Mar 17, 2017 at 9:21 am
                            What is this term 'majoritarian impulses'? Is Pamela certain that her non enthusiastic opinions on Modi are not shaped by Abrahamic majoritarian impulses that see any anti Christian conversion stand as an existential threat?
                            Reply
                            1. D
                              Dr.Damodar Biswal
                              Mar 17, 2017 at 6:36 am
                              Yes,Modi made the best use of social media.Did he prevent the opposition from doing so?All opposition parties should learn n make the best use of social media in future for their political gain.One thing I fail to understand---BJP won 73 out of 80 Parliamentary seats in UP in 2014.It repeated its earlier performance in 2017.Still the opposition feels that there is something wrong somewhere.Yes,the wrong is with the opposition.They did not act like Modi when in power .
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                              1. B
                                Bajaj R
                                Mar 17, 2017 at 4:11 pm
                                UP had decided even before elections to root out SP Alliance and BSP.
                                Reply
                                1. J
                                  Jujhar G
                                  Mar 17, 2017 at 4:27 pm
                                  If author had thought of victory of people of UP over evil and divisive forces, such ideas won't give her trouble. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;She must consider that voters are mature enough to see through any falsehood or design.
                                  Reply
                                  1. G
                                    Girish
                                    Mar 17, 2017 at 12:51 am
                                    "Yawn" Old wine! Everybody is using (or aspiring to use) social media. However unless you have solid material you are lost! Rahul hi's stunt of standing in the queue for money and his phata kurta were designed for the very same purpose. That they were fodder for memes is because of the matter behind it! Whatever medium you use the message and the material is king!
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                                      Gopal
                                      Mar 17, 2017 at 3:15 am
                                      Read your own words again and see if you can find your fallacy. By the way, my point wasn't about voters or governments but about India's left wing elites and their profound disrespect for democracy.
                                      Reply
                                      1. G
                                        Gopal
                                        Mar 17, 2017 at 2:28 am
                                        When the people vote the way you want they are wise. When they don't they are taken in by propaa. It's all about elitist disrespect of democracy.
                                        Reply
                                        1. T
                                          Truth
                                          Mar 17, 2017 at 6:49 pm
                                          For everybody's information, the tweets are definitely not posted by the P M.....lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;It is perhaps his istant handling his personal account...... lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Yesterday his reply to Ravi Shastri : "U P polls did not go down to the wire", said it all ...lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Tweeting up the votes, is another matter !
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                                            Jaywant Nitturkar
                                            Mar 17, 2017 at 6:28 pm
                                            Untill advent of Social Media (and advent of smart phones in India), the Congress-Leftist mafia managed to force its view on citizens of India by essentially controlling the print media and academic insutions (it is known fact that both of them were infested with commie-leftists and Jehadi apologists).. the age of social media, those lies by the so-called 'secular intelligentsia'' have no takers...ultimately 'Satyameva Jayate'... Now these leftists (who taught Indians for last 6 decades that there is nothing in India's civilization, religion and culture to be proud of), have been exposed...hence their agony..their bigger problem is that while they and their ideology is sitting in departure lounge of God's airport, India 's demographics is getting younger and more confident of their civilization and culture...bad news for these Congi-leftist-Jehadi mafia!
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