Social media offers an excellent platform for rival politicians to trade barbs and accusations, and they have embraced it eagerly. Twitter has proven especially conducive to attempts by politicians to control narratives about themselves, and politics is now practised almost as much in 140-character instalments as in more traditional ways. Constructive engagement is rare, and it is a surprise that the Congress, not exactly famed for its communication skills, is importing the shadow cabinet system to Twitter to keep the government honest.
Just like in the shadow cabinet systems in many Westminster-style democracies, individuals with domain expertise have apparently been tasked with tracking each ministry and sector to enable the party to mount more effective and thorough criticism of every government department. Dedicated Twitter handles are shadowing various ministries, from human resource development to home and power. The “shadow” HRD handle has already criticised the HRD ministry for “forcing schools and students” to watch the prime minister’s address on Teacher’s Day.
A mismatch between the agenda-setting capabilities of the government, which has a large outreach apparatus, and that of the opposition, which lacks such institutional support, is a given. When that opposition has been reduced to paltry numbers in the Lok Sabha, perhaps the force multiplier effect of Twitter can help ensure debate on issues it considers important. But in a lopsided Parliament, the role of an opposition in coordinating resistance to the government’s legislative plans and holding ministers and MPs to account is especially significant. So why is the Congress, the largest opposition party, limiting itself to shadow Twitter handles, rather than instituting a full-fledged shadow cabinet? It has done so in Madhya Pradesh; it should replicate that idea nationally.