After being battered by one of the biggest social movements against corruption in India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s beleaguered government now says it has learned its lesson about the power of social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs.
The admission marks a dramatic U-turn for a slow-moving, hierarchical government that admonished its then-foreign minister, Shashi Tharoor, in 2009 for relentless tweeting.
“We were caught a little bit unaware of some changes that were beginning to happen in our society. We were not quick to recognize it. We were slightly disadvantaged because we didn’t use social media as effectively as they [activists] did,” Salman Khursheed, India’s law minister, told reporters in New Delhi. “They had the ability to mobilize people on the street and they were using social media and using symbols. Social media is not just a technique but an attitude . . . a strategy, and is part of a changing society.”
Since April this year, anti-corruption crusaders led by Anna Hazare have mounted a massive uprising using Facebook, Twitter, text-messaging, YouTube and Mahatma Gandhi’s fasting strategies to protest a string of corruption scandals involving several government officials and senior political leaders. The protests almost crippled the government in August when hundreds of thousands of urban, middle-class Indians and villagers came out on the streets to support the strong anti-graft law demanded by the hunger-striking Hazare.
Khursheed said that it was no longer wise to dismiss the public sentiments voiced via social media as limited to the big cities or the privileged classes. He said that the government has had a “difficult year” and that “things have gone wrong.”
But now, Khursheed said, a group of senior ministers in the government meet at noon everyday to analyze what the media are saying and how best to publicize the government’s own message.
Meanwhile, the core team behind Hazare has been taking heat in recent weeks.
There have been some public disagreements about individual members’ opinions on the situation in the Himalayan province of Kashmir and some discomfort over the group’s overt political position during a recent election.
But close aides of Hazare have come out in defense of the group, expressing their views on Twitter — of course.