Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Social networking and the Indian elections

Are Indian elections boring? How Web-savvy are the Indian politicians and how some of them are using Web 2.0 tools such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to connect with the electorate. From my MIS Asia blog:

The world isn’t concerned about Indian elections, complained an Indian TV channel.

The complaint is partly understandable. Starting April 16, the world’s largest democracy will be voting a new government to power. In a country of 1.1 billion people, about 700 million voters will decide the fate of more than 1,000 parties. These are humongous numbers by any standard.

Still, the world does not seem too keen to watch the Indian elections the same way that it was ardent about the recent American presidential elections that threw up Barack Obama as the celebrated winner.

Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria told CNN-IBN that the world is not paying much attention to the Indian elections but that is happening in a very positive sense because everyone believes that India is a matured democracy and there would be political stability after the polls.

No drama

Perhaps underlying the argument is the fact that Indian elections lack dramatic tension. Also, there are no charismatic leaders like Barack Obama in the fray to whip up an electoral hysteria for the world to watch and follow. Not just the world, even people in India are not that excited about the elections so much so that Bollywood stars such as Aamir Khan have to come out and ask people to cast their vote.

In fact, perhaps Rush Limbaugh calling Indian workers ‘slumdogs’ will interest more people than a news item on the Indian elections. As our publisher Andrew Smart likes to put it, sadly, the world is about clicks and ratings.

That brings us to the main point of discussion here: How Web-savvy are the Indian politicians and political parties? And how are they harnessing the power of the Web?

One would expect that India, the land of outsourcing, will have extremely Web-savvy politicians. The facts are otherwise.

In general, most politicians are not Web-savvy and only a select few care about communicating through their websites and blogs. One influential politician even suggested banning English and computers, arguing that they did not benefit India’s rural population. When the media harped on this subject, they did a volte-face.

How could there be drama when the two prime ministerial candidates, despite their wisdom and experience, are not exactly youth icons? They are unfortunately on the wrong side of 60 in a country where a large number of voters are below 30. Incumbent Congress’s Manmohan Singh, 77, (he had a heart surgery sometime ago) and opposition party BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) L K Advani, 82, might show their verbal virility in public and display their muscular power by lifting dumbbells for press cameras, but they are not able to generate the Obama kind of magic in the electoral space.


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