Sunday, July 1, 2012

Social Media, Presidential Election, Chetan Bhagat and Dr Abdul Kalam- Some observations

One of the hazards of being active on social media is that it can easily colour one’s ideas about public opinion.  What opinion a person comes across on social media depends on what sort of people follows that person and what sort of people are followed by that person.  If the person’s circle is skewed towards a specific ideology or point of view, that person can easily fall prey to the delusion that the opinions that s/he is hearing are the opinion of the world at large.

Take for example, the article of the self confessed ‘Underage Optimist’ Mr Chetan Bhagat in The Economic Times, titled “Narendra Modi: People's choice as PM of India?”.  Entire Article is based on the findings of a ‘fun poll’ conducted by HIM on HIS Facebook page, in which over 10,000 people voted, with 82% supporting Narendra Modi for PM while Rahul Gandhi getting mere  5% votes and remaining 13% voters supporting neither. 

To be fair to Chetan Bhagat, he says, “No, i am not implying this is India's verdict. In fact, it could be far from the national consensus, as Facebook is a highly skewed demographic of younger, affluent and more educated Indians. As some say, many people on Facebook don't even bother to vote. Also, Modi has some fervent supporters, who rush to support him in times of need such as this poll. Hence, i would take the results with a huge pinch of Gujarat-made salt”. Yet he goes on to analyse the very findings of that fun poll in the entire article and try to tell us that why India wants Narendra Modi as PM. (In a lighter sense,  I think the only finding of the fun poll is that Chetan Bhagat and Narendra Modi generally shares same kind of followers!  Now you can draw your own conclusions on that.)   

Look at another example of Presidential Elections.  This is one election in which people of India have no direct role as the Constitution has entrusted the task to their elected representatives.  By this scheme of things, it is natural that the Party or Group that is in power, and can muster the majority of votes, will have the final say in electing the President. 

The very post of President under Indian Constitution is more of a ceremonial post with limited discretion in any matter.  President is supposed to act as per the advice of the Council of Ministers and have little discretion in decision making except for his right to send back a Bill or Decision for reconsideration (If the same Bill or Decision is send back to him after reconsideration it shall be binding on him to act on that).  Yet, social media like Twitter and Facebook went hyper on the choice of candidates for the election, in an unprecedented manner. Tags like #PeoplesPresident trended on Twitter in support of Dr Abdul Kalam for his second innings as President of India.  Even Ms Mamata Banerjee who is not otherwise considered media savvy, chose Facebook to promote her suggestion of candidate!

If we go by the Twitter responses alone, as Chetan Bhagat would do, Dr Kalam is the greatest President we ever had and Pranab Mukherjee will be the worst President we will ever have!  With all due respect to Dr Kalam, I have never found his presidential innings inspirational in any manner.  I respect him for his achievements after coming from such humble beginnings and his inspirational speeches that continue to ignite our children’s imaginations.  Yet to say he was the best President and no other person can be as good a President was little too much and out of touch with reality.  

Even in that one aspect where a President has real discretion, i.e., deciding on mercy petitions filed by death row convicts, Dr Kalam’s record was anything but inspirational. Out of total 28 mercy petitions that went to him for decision, he only cleared two in his five years is so telling!   As far as I am concerned, delay in considering Mercy Petitions is no less a crime!  So, for me, Dr Kalam remains a great person but just another President.

That apart, when Dr Kalam declared his intention not to fight for a second term the so called public opinion changed immediately.  Suddenly, Mr P A Sangma became the choice for People’s President.  Facts that he was still very much part of NCP, a constituent of UPA and that his daughter still continues to be a Minister in the UPA Government (though it is not unnatural to be so) etc were forgiven overnight and he became the new champion.   The fact that same ‘public opinion’ used to praise Mr Pranab Mukherjee on his political skills as against that of Dr Man Mohan Singh’s skills, till recently, was also forgotten as soon as his candidature was announced.

Dr Kalam’s tryst with social media did not end there... As soon as information came out that his new book speaks about how he was ready to make Sonia Gandhi the Prime Minister of India, in 2004, he turned villain.  No matter, as back as on 19 May 2004, President’s office had clarified through a Press Note that “It has been reported in a section of the press that the President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had discussed the citizenship issue with Smt. Sonia Gandhi when she met him yesterday at Rashtrapati Bhavan. This is contrary to facts. It did not figure in the discussions at all.”

Yet Dr Kalam was subjected to all name callings because he admitted that he was ready to do what a President is supposed to do as per the Constitution of India.  It is like, to be a People’s President you are supposed to go against the Constitution and do what the so called ‘public opinion’ wants; no matter, what the real ‘people of India’ had decided in a recently concluded election!

I do not want to enter into a debate whether it is desirable to appoint a foreign born person as the Prime Minister of India.  I have my opinion on that issue like most others have their own.  But what matters for a President is what the law says and the law does not differentiate between different classes of citizens of India.  That being the position, President was bound to administer oath to a person who had the support of majority of the members of newly elected Loksabha.  Yet the so called public opinion on social media finds no problem on condemning someone who was their ideal People’s President just a couple of days ago, for admitting that he was ready to stand by the Constitution.

Finally look at the interest, for and against, that Dr Subramaniam Swamy (and even Team Anna for that matter) commands over the social media, with an army of supporters pouncing on anything and everything spoken about him or his views. Yet, his Janata Party is in such a dismal position electorally, is an indication how detached the ‘public opinion of social media’ is from the ‘public opinion on ground’.

Forget about social media; I seriously doubt if there is any homogeneous opinion throughout India on any matters.  Even in our Parliamentary elections, local issues and factors gain prominence and affect ultimate results. Even an issue as fundamental as Emergency did not succeed in universalising the public opinion throughout the country, is a lesson for all of us.

Social media has its role in propaganda, counter propaganda and simple sharing of views and information. Let us use the social media for what it is worth while still keeping our eyes and ears open so as to differentiate propaganda from facts! To succumb to delusions that what one is experiencing is the pulse of Indian people at large can only blind one and lead him/her to fundamental errors. 


  1. “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over”
    - Joseph Goebbels.

    I rest my case. This trend is dangerous. Fascist.

  2. its too long and i lost interest half ways, keep it short nxt time. Also u dnt like Mr.Bhagat's popularity

    1. Thank you for the advise. While appreciating your suggestion, I think I will stick to longer posts since I use Twitter to say shorter things.

      As for your second suggestion, does it matter? My liking or disliking Mr Bhagat's popularity shouldn't come in the way of discussing his views expressed in a public article! Should I assume that you don't like me since you pointed out some negatives of my post? :-)

      Thank you once again


  3. Regarding the Presidential Elections I am seeing pics of Pranab Mukherjee being circulated by "Indian Army Fans" on Facebook.
    Here is a link -

    How is Army Fan Page concerned about politics? These people are using every trick in the book to further their lies. Unfortunate.

  4. But kalam's revelation at this point hampered his popularity, but since he was ready to put Sonia as PM, it means she was all set to become one. So why did she went back. APJ should clear that confusion. Any way I don't support her for the PM post since she is not an Indian (born here), its doesn't matter if she later took up Indian citizenship.

    1. I respect your right to believe what you believe. It is a perfectly legitimate demand that we should limit the posts like PM to India born citizens alone ( I personally don't see any merit in such a position. Personalities apart, why should we forego abilities and leadership of a person merely because he or she is foreign born?. However, I strongly believe that such a demand should be met through change in laws and not through discretion of a President.

      As for Dr Kalam's revelation, I would prefer to wait til his book sis out to find what exactly has has to say!

  5. Meticulous, fine piece as always Jay. This is the utmost level of simplicity and conciseness one can give to his thoughts when discussing such seemingly benign but absolutely dangerous trend.
    Thanks again. You've exceeded expectations. Always. Keep writing.

  6. Thanks for article....i got link from the twitter..............

    Now when i read your article i realize that what you did with this article is just what you are implying that Mr. Chetan has done with his article...........

    As per Mr. Chetan's article he just writing about the sheer interest and response of a 'part of Indian population' who uses 'Internet'. That was article all about................there is no reason to make fuss over it........if Indian public has their interest and responses in Indian politics............

    1. Thank you for the feedback:-)

      However, I do not know how you arrived at such a conclusion. I have not tried to propagate any particular person or idea in this Post.

      What I have done is to demonstrate through examples that how opinions of individuals or group of individuals that we come across social media could make us believe that it represents public opinion at large. I also tried to point out the folly that we all can meet if we succumb to such delusions that what one is experiencing is the pulse of Indian people!

  7. I completely agree that any poll on social media is a biased one .. for the obvious reasons ... one that only educated class can post .. second one can have as many accounts .....

    as far as your article .. you wd have to agree ....that Dr.Kalam is the peoples' president as he is more connected to the people .... he has done so many things substantial as compared to the others ... his hands were tied as a president ,,, because OUR CONSTITUTION doesn't allow any president to do so ...
    this worries me .. why ? I dont want to get into the debate of changing the society or not :)

  8. Nice analysis..
    When i am amused by such social media polls, i pose the same questions to my maid, doodhwaala, kiraane waala, not interested in politics young men and women etc etc etc - their replies and reactions pull me back to the terra firma. - Reena Satin

  9. Hi Sir,
    I believe just like B.Raman you go by some tweeples opinion who would like to abuse and believe in Either My way or the Highway!There are many sensible Kalam or Modi or BJP supporters.Every mass leader will have both die hard fans who abuse others and blind critic who abuse them.Its better to ignore them and listen to sensible supporters or critics.As for Dr.Kalam,just by citing his action in dealing with mercy petitions its unfair to judge him.He has inspired many and reached out to many.At the same time i respect your opinion.

    1. Thanks Dhruv..

      Please note I have acknowledged my respect for Dr Kalam as a person and and as an inspirational figure. There is no question about it. But I believe taking a stand on mercy petitions is one criteria to judge a President because he has true discretion there. Dr Kalam didn't do well in that aspect. In rest of the matters, like appointment of PM etc, he has no choice but to go as per the will of MPs.

      As regards the point on going by extreme opinions, yes I agree those are the ones that get mentioned and attacked. I can have no complaint with anyone wanting to support any person or leader. My complaint is limited to the manner in which some people are trying to push that support down the throat of others, through dubious means.

      I don't see legitimate propaganda as a sin. But it will remain propaganda.. and that is my point :)

    2. Yes.You maybe right regarding mercy petitions.I would like to read his book before fully agreeing with you.My limited point is why should we judge a person regarding his one action?I would like to see through his performance throughout his tenure.I dont believe in making him God.My point is he is relatively a good president and certainly deserves to occupy that chair more than a Patil or Pranab!Also i agree with him on Sonia Gandhi.If she commands support of majority MPs and if constitution allows her, Kalam has no option but to invite her.You may find this blog technically informative on Sonia Gandhi and Her citizenship.
      The second point about pushing a candidate as their leader.There is nothing wrong if some people feel their leader is best suited to be PM.If they articulate their preferences based on facts and evidences (some tweeples do that),those deserve to be analysed, researched and then countered or accepted.But if they articulate their preferences and believe others should either accept it or get abused in return they deserve to be ignored.Judge a leader based on facts and figure not on few abusive supporters.Abusive Supporters may have different motives.So better to ignore them.
      Thanks for reading :)

  10. Well written but if I felt that the blog tends to deal with multiple issue leaving the reader wanting more on each of them separately.

    1. I thought so too..

      But too many issues of same genus on a single Sunday forced me to bring them all under a single post :)

  11. hi,
    i have penned a piece of advise for chetan bhagat.
    he must punch into google search PERCEPTION AND RELATIVITY- VADAKAYIL
    capt ajit vadakayil

  12. You're right about Chetan Bhagat. Read any column of his on TOI. If you don't mind atrocious grammar, read his book "What young India wants".
    He tries to pass off shallow and fallacious reasoning as the truth and as the "voice of the people". In a country as diverse as India, there is no such thing as the "voice of the people".
    On an aside, I feel the media pays to much attention to Bhagat. He's just a writer of pulp who likes to air his ill-informed opinions. Why treat him like he is anything else?