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The Daily Fix: Sushma Swaraj threat to Amazon shows how governance is becoming a social media event

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The Big Story: Of, for and by the Tweeters

If there’s one thing the Bharatiya Janata Party has been widely commended for, it is its social media outreach. It reached platforms such as Twitter and Facebook before its rivals and used them to disseminate its message – an act that helped it win the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

However, three years after that campaign, is the BJP be overdoing the social media bit? On Wednesday, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj threatened e-commerce giant Amazon on Twitter. Her anger had been sparked off by a user bringing to her attention that Amazon Canada was selling doormats with the Indian flag printed on them. Unless the company stopped selling these items immediately, Swaraj said, the government would not grant Amazon officials visas to India.

Given the religious reverence with which Indians treat nationalist symbols, it was easy to see where Swarj’s anger was coming from. However, a different set of values in the West means flag-printed doormats are rather common – and perfectly legal.

What was inexplicable, though, was for a Union minister to formulate policy on the fly on Twitter. What message was India sending out to investors when it was framing business policy on social media? Did Swaraj sit down to understand that the flags were being sold by Amazon Canada, where it violates no laws?

With 96 followers and an egg profile picture, Atul Bhobe was an unlikely candidate to shape India's trade policy with respect to Amazon. It was Bhobe who brought the doormats to Swaraj's attention.

Even as this particular event will soon blow over, it has revealed the Modi government’s use of social media not as an enabler but as a substitute for governance. Swaraj has earlier treated her social media account as a visa helpline, responding to Indians in distress while travelling abroad or who have hit bureaucratic hurdles. This has, ironically, helped her get positive PR from an Indian public, unable to grasp that the job of a Union minister is to frame and implement policy, not to act as a one-woman customer service operation.

Swaraj is not the only one to blame. Prime Minister Modi has used social media extensively to build his personal brand – most recently tweeting about having breakfast with his mummy. Yet, even as visa troubles and meals are tweeted out, the Union government rarely uses social media to engage with the people on actual matter of policy. Modi rarely tweets on the burning issue of the day such as, say, demonetisation.

Social media is a great medium to get one’s message across. But social media should not be allowed to become the message itself. Especially for a matter as urgent as governing the world’s second-largest country.

Political Picks

  1. Blaming the Manmohan Singh government for banning jallikattu, the Modi government said it was ready to allow the sport but would wait for the Supreme Court’s order first.
  2. The Supreme Court has rejected a probe into the Sahara-Birla papers, saying they are not credible. Rahul Gandhi had used them to accuse Narendra Modi of corruption.
  3. The Trinamool-Bharatiya Janata Party tussle continues, with Mamata Banerjee attacking Modi about the Godhra riots and party members filing cases against each other.

Punditry

  1. The Enemy Property ordinances subvert both the primacy of the legislature and the spirit of the Constitution, argues Aadil Boparai in the Indian Express.
  2. Apart from its ethical cleansing role, Modi’s demonetisation programme appears to be heralding a fundamental social change for the Bharatiya Janata Party, argues party MP Swapan Dasgupta in the Telegraph.
  3. Bengaluru is a city in distress, writes V Shobha in Open.

Giggle

Don’t Miss

The Navsarjan Trust has been fighting manual scavenging, Dalit exploitation and untouchability for years. Yet, the Modi government has deemed its activities undesirable and cancelled its foreign funding licence. Aarefa Johri reports on the effect this would have on the organisation.

“Uday Makwana is barely 12 years old, but he has already experienced a form of discrimination that many Indians like to believe no longer exists. Makwana, a Dalit from Kamlapur village in Gujarat’s Rajkot district, has been beaten in school by boys from the higher Koli caste for the crime of touching them.

‘In my old school, even if we brushed against the Kolis, they would beat us,’ said Makwana. ‘And they would not let us enter their temple. We were three Dalit boys in that school, and we were given a separate bench to sit.’

Life has been better for the boy in the past two years but only because his parents moved him to a different school – Navsarjan Vidyalaya – almost 150 km away from home.”

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