The Chance They Never Had From Social Media Pundits

They never had a chance. Simply because myriad media experts, supposedly informed analysts and hordes of social media pundits weren’t willing to give them one.

Many of these guys fell for Narendra Modi’s tall promises during his extended campaign in 2013-14. Apparently, both their analytical and their number crunching abilities were on vacation at the time. ‘If Modi-ji says so, it must be so’ was the kind of logical thinking that they had used then. These abilities continued to be on vacation when the GDP figures kept getting tweaked and when most statistics rolled out by the government were at least of the dubious and even the eyebrow-raising variety. When his election triumphs continued, they readily acknowledged his invincibility.

Prior to the elections in the 5 states of M.P., Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh, Telangana & Mizoram they were airing their projections about the Congress getting tripped up by the street smart BJP in most of these states, particularly since it had far greater resources and excellent booth management capabilities. It became a matter of surprise and consternation to several folks at least when the results turned out to be what they are, particularly in the 3 Hindi heartland states.

To downplay the electoral results, various sections of the media, TV channels and of course hordes of social media pundits went to work with a vigour not seen for awhile now. Suddenly the Congress’ victory in these 3 states were termed unconvincing, razor-thin & unstable. According to these pundits, they had nearly failed yet again.

The critics were having a field day about everything from the Congress’ manifesto for these 3 states to their process of selection of the C.M. for each of the states and also the C.M. designate whose name was finally announced. Some of the more commonly aired criticism was:
  1. The margin of victory was too narrow and unconvincing.
  2. The process of selection of the C.M. was ‘unconvincing’ and smacked of unfairness. This, despite Rahul Gandhi following a process where party MLAs, workers and seniors were all consulted about the process.
  3. The person chosen as the C.M. was all wrong. Someone more suave & photogenic, from the ‘young guard’ would have been the right choice.
  4. Kamal Nath, the M.P. CM, is one of the veterans of the Congress party. He has been elected as a L.S. M.P. on 9 occasions, starting from 1980. He has been a Union Minister on 4 occasions, as recently as 2014 when the UPA led by Dr. Manmohan Singh lost out in the elections and bowed out of office. Yet, he suddenly became a person who had instigated mobs to vandalize properties and kill Sikhs during 1984 despite no definitive evidence having been unearthed about this for over three decades. In the world of Social Media he was quickly tried, found guilty and stamped as someone with blood on his hands. Sections of the mainstream media played along and helped to amp-up the supposed outrage about this.
  5. Supporters of fledgling start-up political parties, in power in an upgraded Union Territory, started talking about how they were giving the Congress, India’s oldest pan-Indian political party, a ‘limited free pass’ till the general elections after which they would start ripping them apart again.
A whole lot of people who did not belong to any of these states and had little or no idea about what the problems and issues were, suddenly turned out to be quite knowledgeable about the real issues affecting the masses in these states. Early decisions taken by the new C.M.s were quickly dissected, shredded and pronounced to be all wrong.

Above all, the guns were trained again on Rahul Gandhi, the ‘Pappu’ of Indian politics according to some sections, who despite the string of successes for his party, apparently deserved no credit for the outcome. I did an analysis of why so many people switched suddenly to the ‘anyone-but-Rahul-Gandhi’ mode after this string of successes and this is what I came up with.

People unwittingly reveal a fair bit about their mindsets, prejudices & fears on SM. From whatever I have gathered, the strong opposition to RaGa from some is on account of 2 factors primarily:
  • They are convinced by BJP's & Modi's sustained campaign now, for over 5 years, that he is a 'Pappu'.
  • He is a 4th generation Nehru - Gandhi and that pinches them. Call it envy, if you will. It's something like, "If he can aspire to be the PM, just because he was born in the Gandhi family, how unfair is that to me, since I am more suited for that job than him".
For the B.J.P., even if they lose the next General Elections, they would like nothing better than to have one of the regional leaders like Mayawati, Naidu etc., as the next P.M. He or she will be far easier to trip up and, as history tells us, no non-Congress PM - BJP aside of course - has lasted a full 5 years in India.
It is only logical that any alliance has to have a dominant player as the pivot & that can only be one of the two pan-Indian parties today, like the Congress or the BJP. Yet, on occasions, logic needs to be turned around on its head to meet some strategic objectives of some political parties.

I also gather that there is a lot of resentment against the Gandhis among some sections and that is now suddenly getting focused on Rahul Gandhi, helped along liberally by Modi & the BJP smear machinery. For 3 full terms i.e. a total of 15 years since 1991, there has not been a Gandhi as the PM so, much of that hate which has been simmering below the surface all this while is now bubbling up to the surface, amplified and distorted in several ways by major SM networks and 'dark social' messaging & communication apps like WhatsApp in India.

This was again a very convincing demonstration of how major SM networks could be used to spread conspiracy theories and fake news and used as propaganda and attack platforms by certain sections or groups. It is also a classic instance of how SM networks like Facebook actually helps to divide and disconnect people and undermine democracy. The detailed piece I had written on this topic can be read here.

Major SM networks as well as private messaging & communication apps like WhatsApp have certainly emerged as platforms for airing conspiracy theories of all kinds as well as fake news and propaganda disguised as considered opinion. Networks like Facebook & Twitter are also teeming with fake profiles, agent provocateurs & bots simply because, as the old adage goes, ‘no one on the Internet knows whether you are a dog’.

Facebook’s role in India has hardly been a politically agnostic one and, as a series of well researched articles by veteran journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta shows, it has actively aided & abetted the Modi administration time and again (details of this can be read in an earlier SM post of mine, here ). With India’s general elections barely a few months away, many of the traits mentioned earlier, both for MSM & SM, will be magnified manifold.

-- Raja Mitra