Hashtag Modi and demonetisation

BY USHA M. RODRIGUES| IN Digital Media | 12/01/2017
The PM’s Twitter strategy both for the currency ban and his other schemes has been artfully crafted to create a positive aura around him,
says USHA M. RODRIGUES

 

In this age of “mass self-communication”, the U.S. President elect Donald Trump is not the only to use Twitter to get his message across to his 19 million followers and the rest of the world.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has mastered the art of “mass self-communication”, using the social networking site and other similar new media platforms to continue a dialogue with his followers and the world. 

However, Modi’s ‘incessant campaign’ online is a text-book process, where he generally utilizes the networking sites and platforms for a one-way conversation. He hardly ever replies to his followers, although they keep sending him replies or retweeting or mentioning him in their online conversations.

The only time he retweets celebrities and other corporate leaders’ posts is when he needs to show their support for his actions, such as demonetisation of 86% of the Indian currency on November 8, 2016, which is a similar tactic he deployed in relation to his “Clean India” campaign in 2014-2015 when he used film stars such as Salman Khan to garner support for the campaign.

After U.S. President Barack Obama @BarackObama who is followed by over 80 million twitterati, the next most followed political leader on Twitter is Modi @NarendraModi. Modi has not only used Twitter as an effective part of his election strategy in his and his party’s landslide victory in 2014 election, but has, similar to Obama, implemented a post-election social media strategy where he uses Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and his app NMApp to incessantly communicate with his followers.

Modi’s communication skills on Twitter with his 26 million followers have come into sharp focus in the past two months during the self-created crisis of his government, when they rendered Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 notes useless in early November, forcing at least 600 million plus people to queue up at their banks to recover their value.

On November 8, Modi’s personal Twitter handle @NarendraModi, along with his prime ministerial office Twitter account @PMO India with 15 million followers, launched the government’s mission to get rid of #blackmoney in India.

In the past two months, the series of hashtags used by his Twitter account gives a glimpse into how his media strategy has evolved: #IndiaFightsCorruption and #NewIndia around November 8-10; #Demonetisation;#digitalpayments and #ipaydigitally around November 25-28; #Indiadefeatsblackmoney around December 8-9;  and the latest hashtags, #BHIM app and #Digidhanmela, where the government is giving away Rs. 1,000 to 15,000 consumers who use a digital payment method. The roadshow is slated to visit 100 cities in 100 days across India to promote cashless business transactions.

Modi’s Twitter posts, like any good public relations strategy,put a positive spin on the fallout of this dramatic and far-reaching decision to replace Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, with new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 currency. His public speeches, whose excerpts are generously sprinkled via Twitter and Facebook, acknowledge the hardship caused to the poor and middle class citizens, but nonetheless emphasise the need for this reform.

As the changing terminology of hashtags/topics show, Modi and his government, in about four weeks following the ban of 86% of India’s wealth, self-declared that India had defeated the black economy with #Indiadefeatsblackmoney, and moved on to solution-focused messages of a cashless society #ipaydigitally, a utopia where most Indians used digital technology to pay for their monetary transactions.

Since before his election as the prime minister, Modi has been using Twitter to update his followers on his daily activities, his diplomacy efforts, the launching of various government schemes including ‘Digital India’; ‘Clean India’ and ‘Beti Bachao and Beti Padao’. No other political leader in India has had such an elaborate online presence as Modi, who continues to use new media technologies to his advantage, in addition to the two Indian public service broadcasters, which are largely tax-payer funded but fully controlled by the government of the day.

Similar to his social media strategy during the election campaign and in the past two years of his governance, @narendramodi account calls on celebrities and public figures (social media influencers) to push Modi’s socio-economic agenda. Following the November 8 demonetisation announcement, once again Modi retweeted congratulatory Twitter posts sent by superstar Rajnikant; actor-director Kamal Hasan; film producer Subhash Ghai; cricket stars Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble amongst others.

Then, on November 12, he retweeted the supportive tweets of industrialists such as Ratan N. Tata and Anand Mahindra and corporate leaders Kiran Mazumdar Shaw of Biocom and Chanda Kochhar of ICICI Bank.

Although Modi normally does not reply to any messages that he may receive from his followers, on this occasion he did retweet posts where citizens thanked bank officers for helping them with their currency exchange transactions.

Despite severe criticism from other political parties of the hardship caused by the demonetization process, NMApp surveyed about 500,000 Indians about their views of the historic reform. The survey declared that over 90% respondents backed the demonetization move.

However, a smaller, but independent study in rural India found that 91% of the respondents had never done any cashless transaction, and only 1.6% of those had resorted to e-facilities post-demonetization.

Modi’s personal Twitter account @narendramodi focuses on his daily activities, including micro-blogging his speeches. The prime ministerial account @PMO India, which has 15 million followers, tweets government announcements, retweets posts by his cabinet ministers and party leaders, and mentions news publications praising Modi for his “courageous reform”, often ignoring critical news coverage and commentary. The @PMO India account also more often posts tweets in Hindi.

Meanwhile, in the past two months, Modi has given but one interview to India’s mainstream media, defending his government’s decision to demonetize Indian notes, the hardship it has caused and its impact on India’s economic growth in the foreseeable future.

According to an estimate, India has over 450 million internet users, with a quarter of them active on social media. Facebook and WhatsApp are more popular in India than Twitter. However, Twitter allows political leaders such as Modi to send short, succinct messages to his followers, which are then picked up by the mainstream media.

As to the cumulative effect of his social media communication strategy where he communicates with his followers directly, removing the middle agency – that is journalists and their questions – from the process, it will be judged by Indian voters at the next general election in 2019.

 

Usha M. Rodrigues, PhD, is Senior Lecturer, Journalism, Deakin University.

 Twitter @umanchanda

 

 

 

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