Saturday, 26 April 2014

What does Modi tweet about?

This blog recently commented that what makes Narendra Modi stand out amongst right-wing demagogues is a particular confluence of factors: his history, his governance style, and above all the mass movement which holds him aloft, with its vast membership and its portfolio of political, religious, vigilante, and terrorist activity. These, combined with some successful image management, have brought him to the brink of national power.

This post is an attempt to see what Modi tells us about himself via his tweets. In particular his twitter feed from Feb 17th to April 26th 2014 is examined. In a previous post we met (in a virtual sense) some Hindutva tweeters. They provided insight into how the movement builds momentum with constant talk of victimhood and violence. They entertained us with analyses of caste, and women's rights and the economy. So what about Modi? He tweets many times a day, but about what? Sadly this story is a bit more dull, but maybe there are some lessons to be drawn from it.

He tweets publicity for his events: "I really look forward to addressing 3D rallies. Technology enables me to connect with so many fellow Indians & exchange ideas with them." (How, Modi ji, do your fellow Indians communicate their ideas to your 3D avatar?) He congratulates himself via his fans: "Thank you Karnataka! Was truly touched by the warm welcome during the 2 rallies in Davangere & Mangalore", "Thank you Varanasi. No words will describe the affection you have showered today. Truly touched". Everywhere, he receives warmth and love.

He sends festival greetings - in this period we had greetings for: Holi, Ugadi, Gudi Padwa & Navreh, Cheti Chand, Utkal Diwas, Ram Navami, Mahavir Jayanti, Baisakhi, Rongali Bihu, Mesadi, Puthandu, Vishu, Pohela Baisakh, Easter, Navroz, Gangaur. He mentions local heroes as he traverses the country: "Apart from being a brave warrior, Shivaji Maharaj was a torchbearer of good governance. His economic & trade policies still inspire us", "Remembering the great freedom fighter & tall leader from Uttar Pradesh, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant on his Punya Tithi".

His attacks on his enemies are frequent, but very focussed. There are a lot of tweets about "Madam": e.g., "Recently Madam addressed the nation by purchasing prime time space on TV, but what she said was full of lies!"; and "Shahzada": e.g., "Shahzada came to Rajasthan without informing their CM & rode on a bike belonging to a history sheeter. Perhaps he was inspired by Dhoom 3"; and Congress more generally: "For Congress all 365 days are April Fools' Day." Interestingly, he doesn't tweet about AAP - presumably his media machine has decided the best strategy is to ignore them.

There's some clever stuff about "3 Ds", and "5 Ts", and arithmetic, and chemistry: "Demography, Democracy & Demand...the 3 Ds are India's strength! No other nation is blessed with all 3 the way we are", "NDA will focus on 5T formula (trade, tradition, talent, technology & tourism)...", "2014 polls are not about arithmetic but people's chemistry with BJP. In arithmetic 1+1 is 2 but such is our chemistry that 1 & 1 becomes 11!" There's general self-congratulation on development: "Giving example of our successful effort in Kutch, talked about the priority NDA attaches to fast-paced development of our desert regions". He responds to his critics on Gujarat's development dismissively: "From dropout rates, debt to malnutrition in Guj, Madam tried her best to mislead people with incorrect facts. Thankfully, people are wiser.

He mentions his acolytes fondly: Ramdev ji, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji, Rajnath ji, @AnupamPKher, @chetan_bhagat, Jaitley ji, Parkash Singh Badal ji, Ramvilas Paswan ji, Uddhav ji, Munde ji, Athawale ji, Shivraj Singh Chouhan ji, Pawan Kalyan... there is a long list of "chamchas and yes-men". He remembers those who have passed with affection: "We miss Balasaheb. Lets ensure a grand victory for Mahayuti & defeat Cong-NCP. This will make Balasaheb proud".

He makes a cautious approach to a potential ally: "Birthday greetings to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa ji. I pray for her long life & good health" (this was on Feb 24th). But he doesn't mention his controversial or faltering allies: Pravin Togadia gets no mention; Amit Shah gets no mention; Ramdas Kadam gets no mention; Giriraj Singh is mentioned once, but that was before he said that those who want to stop Modi will have to go to Pakistan; Sushma Swaraj gets no mention; Advani gets one hurtfully neutral mention: "Will join Advani ji at Karyakarta Sammelan in Gandhinagar. Later, will accompany Advani ji to file his nomination papers." Following the recent epidemic of Hindutva hate speech the mainstream media, seemingly desperate to see Modi as a reformed character, picked up on two tweets: "I disapprove any such irresponsible statement & appeal to those making them to kindly refrain from doing so", "Petty statements by those claiming to be BJP's well wishers are deviating the campaign from the issues of development & good governance." Modi mentions no names or particular statements he finds objectionable. A very faint "tut" indeed.

He only hints at Hindutva. "My coming to Varanasi is like a child going to his Mother. I have come to this divine land on the call of Ganga Mata", "Digitisation of our ancient scriptures can go a long way in preserving & further popularising Ayurveda, particularly among our youth", "There is no place for infiltrators from Bangladesh who have come to further the votebank politics agenda of others. They should be sent back". Religion is almost never explicitly mentioned though Baba Ramdev gets warm mentions in 6 tweets and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar gets a couple. Hindus come up only once: "Not Assam alone, but all states must accommodate Hindus coming from Bangladesh & offer them a life with dignity."

He avoids caste. Dalits are mentioned twice but only to attack Congress: "A Dalit won Vadodara Cong Primary but was asked to withdraw overnight. Shows Cong's lack of respect even for systems they themselves created"; and "Congress' Primaries were described as 'historic' but what happened in Vadodara signalled its pre-mature end & anti-Dalit nature of Congress."

There's a bit of fear mongering: "Kerala has become a nursery of terrorism", "Narcotics & lot of fake currency is entering through our borders but Centre is watching silently", "Congress is like a watermelon- green outside but red from within." (Communist within? Really?)

The tweets are clearly heavily managed by Modi's media machine - it is hard to pick out the man behind the facade. Yet subtly he reminds his supporters of who he is via his choice of icons - Bal Thackeray, Ramdev ji - his choice of cultural references - Ganga mata, Ayurveda and scriptures - and coded messages about "Bangladeshi infiltrators", a "nursery of terrorism", "red within"...

But what matters above all is what is absent. There is no mention of Gujarat 2002, or snoopgate, or fake encounters, or gas prices, or land give-aways, or human development indices, or big business, or marital status, or campaign funding, or style of governance. The silence is deafening.

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