Chidanand Rajghatta,TNN | May 19, 2015, 01.43 AM IST
WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is turning out to be a savvy social media superstar whose online postings, banal on the face of it, are reshaping his public image as a technology-capable leader aligned with the aspirations of a new Indian modernity, a US study has said.
In a paper titled “Banalities Turned Viral: Narendra Modi and the Political Tweet,” University of Michigan scholar Joyojeet Pal says Modi – whose social media following is next only to Barack Obama’s (but a distant second) among world politicians – has used a pro-technological discourse to reframe his political image and overcome the fusty baggage of the sangh parivar.
“The capture of social media allowed Modi to cater to aspirations for a modernity that mirrored blueprints from the global North. The BJP no longer stood only for older Hindu men in saffron. Instead, here was a man who could take a selfie with one hand and use the other for a trident when needed,” the paper says, adding that or the first time in its history, “the BJP leader emerged as more central to the public discourse than the ideology he stands for.”
Pal says the gentle tenor of Modi’s “twitter banalities” on global events, carefully crafted and global public thank-you notes, and consistent reinforcement of national development themes suggest no shadow of a man who was once-rejected by the international community and was banned from entering the United States for gross violations of religious freedom.
“The young demographic of Twitter users in India are from a generation that has grown up with little memory with the riots of 2002. The enduring memory of Modi for them will be the political maverick who talks directly to the people, whether through Twitter or via his popular radio and YouTube missives called MannkiBaat. For a party long branded as appealing to constituents of traditional Hindutva values, the use of technology in the party’s reimagination has been particularly salient,” Pal writes.
Analyzing Modi’s social media approach and postings, Pal, an assistant professor at UMich’s School of Information, says he has evolved significantly from the time he used it as a chief minister, and has been quick to adopt latest tech updates, such as taking advantage of the video feature on Twitter almost as soon as it as available. He also gives the appearance of composing messages himself unlike Obama, whose messages make it evident it is being managed on his behalf.
During his tenure as prime minister, Modi’s tweets have also changed. He posts fewer political statements and more casual messages, such as greetings, condolences and updates of his addresses. ”Modi uses Twitter as a personal signal than for issues, per se. For instance, he goes between ‘karyakarta’ to a ‘mai baap style’ (worker to a benign ruler). This is different from say Obama who has kept up with agenda-based tweeting,” Pal said.
If he keeps it up, Pal says, Modi will overtake Kim Kardashian on Twitter, “and we won’t be able to say that we didn’t see that coming.” Kardashian (in 65th place) has 14.2 million followers compared with Modi’s 12.3 million (85th place). At the top are entertainers Katy Perry (69 million) and Justin Bieber (63 million), followed by Barack Obama with 59 million followers.