Monday, November 28, 2011

Exploiting the web: Narendra Modi

- Nirendra Dev

One would fail in the duty if a vital facet of Narendra Modi’s personal story is not highlighted. It is his love for the razor-sharp new technology, the Information Technologies. Years back when Modi was first sworn in as the Gujarat chief minister on October 11, 2011 replacing an embattled party old-war horse Keshubhai Patel, there was a small piece of story ran by PTI wire service. It spoke about Modi’s swearing in being live covered by his personal website. The IT knowledge of Indians was not yet to the mark as it is now. I was temporarily stationed at PTI’s Chandigarh office for a short while. In fact, the moment the news story about website reached our desk at Chandigarh there was a modest debate on the merits of such a news report. Little wonder, Modi had kept himself low-profile but his incisive knowledge and more importantly the use of IT revolution was perhaps second to none. In later years too, this interest only sustained. It would not be out of place to mention that the ‘computer-mediated communication’ or the internet has a profound impact on his life and career and he too has tried to make use of it --- both as a tool to promote one’s personal image and also as a key system for governance.
I often tell friends that had not the train inferno taken place, the little known township of Godhra had the potential of making news in IT revolution, a point I had highlighted rather eloquently in my first book, ‘Godhra – A Journey to Mayhem’.

For Godhra and its Panchmahal district, the irony was more. On February 27, 2002 when unscrupulous elements set fire on Sabarmati Express, they not only precipitated an unprecedented communal carnage in Gujarat, but the mayhem also derailed Panchmahal district from its track of long journey for IT revolution. “For Godhra and Panchmahal district; there was certainly a set back due to the violence, subsequent tension and days of curfew. On December 31, 2001, Panchmahal district and its headquarter Godhra clicked into a web history in western India when citizens in the district were given the opportunity to simply walk into a nearest STD and cyber kiosk and obtain ration cards or file pension claims.
The entire credit for IT revolution could not be obviously given to Modi because the process for the same had begun long back. With traders’ friendly atmosphere and pragmatic business acumen of locals, Gujarat had attained e-governance network spread over to the taluka level --- as against even “CEO” N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Andhra Pradesh having up to district level only. Gujarat attained largest number of Internet Service Providers (30) and also emerged as a hub of four gateways and nearly 65,000 internet subscribers.
This is one part of the story of IT in Gujarat. The other part belongs to Modi. The Gujarat watchers know it pretty well that no other chief minister has able to make use of IT and importantly to his advantage.
Today, more than one news letter are web posted to millions of IT users a across the globe daily and I would have no hesitation that the perceptible change in people’s perception about him and especially his developmental activities reach internet users – his friends and foes alike.

As I interacted over the matter with Gujarat government officials over the months, many endorsed my views rather strongly that Modi understands it pretty well that internet mediated communications/newsletters/ video footage can have transformative impact on people’s mind as more and more people are slowly getting affected by this technology. Modi is among the first group of Indian politicians making use of the technology and even social networking sites like twitter.
Importantly, he keeps himself updated and would not miss opportunities to pass on his comments and catchy oneliners on news and events promptly.

The Gujarat watchers say he has also benefited by the IT and these social networking sites and news letters. “One likes it or not, the internet has dramatically influenced his friends and foes alike. To those who view things with jaundiced eyes of a Hindu chauvinism, his twitter messages etc tell them how Hindus have been endangered. Yet again, for others, these make significant differences in changing their opinion about Modi,” said a minority community public sector employee posted in Ahmedabad.

Not entirely to my surprise, he further told me that as elsewhere jihadi networks or closer home. how Anna Hazare’s crusade, have used internet as logistical and publicity tool; Modi one of the rare Indian politicians who has been using this too. Adept application of the net especially in terms of making use of the free web space have gone to his advantage to manipulate public opinion and as well as the press agendas. Modi has understood it pretty well that a website’s greatest contribution is to remove the prospect of compartmentalizing an event, any propaganda or a theory. It is this so called worldview – actually rightly influenced by his propaganda – that has fetched him dividends in terms of investors making a beeline for his state.
It is a known fact, both old and new, and even corporate sector endorses that effective publicity does help bring in new players. Therefore, it is not quite surprising that when Maruti Suzuki had to shift its unit from strike-torn Haryana, the choice was Gujarat. When Ratan Tata was shoed away from Bengal, he also called up Modi and when Delhi Metro compartment maker Canadian firm, Bombardier has to look for a place in India, the natural choice was Modi’s Gujarat.

In other words, Modi’s image is being rechristened or reshaped by the internet as the web technology is definitely having an increasing impact on his voters in Gujarat, Indian citizens in general and rest of the world in varied and diverse contemporary contexts.

ends

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