SOCIAL MEDIA- Is it Now a Game Changer for India’s Democracy?

By: Pathikrit
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New Delhi, Jan 18: India's National Elections slated to happen between April and May, 2014 is probably one of the most awaited elections in the recent times. It is not only becoming a sort of a presidential contest but is also creating waves for several other reasons. Among them, a very important one is the involvement of the youth this time. For a considerable period of time over the last two-three decades or so, the educated urban youth had completely alienated themselves from mainstream political activism. For a long time, associating with politics or political activism was a taboo and was considered a major negative in the path of a bright young Indian's professional career growth.

But things are changing and rather changing fast. The signs were all there for the last two-three years when the rapid popularity of the social media was making things undergo fast metamorphosis. Twitter and Facebook became great tools for the reluctant young Indian to actively engage at least in discussions on political, economic, military as well as social issues. What started as discussions eventually became powerful groups for not just mere discussions but criticism and dissemination of opinion on several such issues which mainstream media would not discuss or show for several reasons.

Initially most political parties did not take the social media and the rising wave of youth seriously and ignored it as a passing phase which would have no impact on voting patterns or electoral outcomes. Yet some political leaders found this as a great tool to connect with the educated and white collar middle class of India who for long had taken the voting day as an unexpected holiday to enjoy instead of voting. For some, connecting to them with discussions on national issues and engaging them enough to vote really worked.

The reason for the success of social media and why some political parties have gained immensely out of it is because, most of the youth of India, that teeming millions working in ad agencies, research houses, IT companies, BPOs and in other spheres of the service or manufacturing sector do not get a chance to watch television or have rather distanced themselves from the ubiquitous television sets, but have hooked on all the more to the virtual world through their laptops, workstations and smart phones.

Eventually what started as a mere virtual platform for discussions became a wonder tool for dissemination of information, advocacy, voter registration drive and voter mobilisation. There can never be any doubt that a large number of first time voters and a large number of those young people who have never voted in the past did vote with much enthusiasm and élan in the recently concluded assembly elections. Each of states that went to poll witnessed massive surge in the polling percentages which broke all previous records. This could not have been possible without the active participation from a large number of such voters who were not voting in the past. Even a fraction of the votes of the young educated brigade can make things swing substantially so far as the result of a constituency or that of the entire election is concerned.

The reason for the importance of social media and its success in actively mobilising the youth can be found in the very demographics of India today. As per International Labour Organisation, India has the largest youth population in the world with 66% or nearly 808 million of its population is below the age of 35. With an upwardly mobile population increasingly latching on to the decreasing prices of mobile phones and tablets, social media connection is now like a social status for most.

In respect of using the social media and especially Twitter and Facebook, BJP and especially its Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi had a head start and their popularity as well as reach through social media is far more than that of any other parties. Narendra Modi has the highest followership in twitter while in Facebook one can see many facebook pages dedicated to Narendra Modi with considerable following. He was one of the early movers into the social media paradigm and it worked for him.

Aam Aadmi Party too has to give a certain portion of its electoral success in Delhi to the impact it could create through the social media. However parties like Congress and several other political parties were late in realising the reach of the social media and the kind of impact it could create. Many of them are now trying to play the catching game. The indispensability of the social media could be gauged from the fact that even Lalu Prasad who always loved and displayed his rustic lifestyle now has joined the twitter world.

With elections merely three months of away, social media campaigning is heating up with the focus changing to renewed drive for voter registration, crowd funding of events as well as development of election strategies. A large number of youth could be seen working for political parties without even ever going to party offices but playing a key role by sitting just in front of their workstations.

However national parties who are well entrenched in the social media are also trying to make sure that their engagement with the educated middle class through the virtual world in no way reduce their physical outreach to people.

How much the social media and active engagement of educated youth of India would make a real difference in the election outcomes, only time can say that. But no one can deny the fact that social media is here to stay and it is increasingly becoming an indispensable tool for political democracy. With India's internet penetration on a massive upward journey, the reach would eventually extend to not just the educated mass of cities but also perhaps one day become a tool to connect with every Indian, be it urban or rural, be it the skilled or unskilled workforce, be it the elite or the rustic. Social Media is here to stay and is now an extended army of democracy of India from which nothing can be hidden and which is now a major pressure group to reckon with, which no one can ignore. Social media has perhaps made India's democracy more inclusive.

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