Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sent close to 60 twitter messages on subjects ranging from his meetings with governors, chief ministers and celebrities to issues like his first interaction with the top civil servants of the country.
He is not new to this medium, having joined the American microblogging site in January 2009 with 5,236 tweets till date and an estimated 4.75 million followers on last count. His Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) twitter handle and the personal one have all been linked to the PM’s official website now. His posts on Facebook, another American social networking site, are earning him millions of ‘likes’ every day.
Although former prime minister Manmohan Singh also had a presence across networking sites, it is the scale and speed of the information flow that sets Modi apart. The combination of tweets, Facebook posts, official releases, announcements through emails and SMSes, totalling 10 or 15 a day, makes it an overload of information coming from the PM, that too in a government which, many say, is “gagging” its ministers and bureaucrats. While it is believed that Modi wants his ministers and officials to focus on work rather than on making statements and comments, he himself has emerged as the biggest spokesperson for the government.
So, is it a transparent government or a closed one? Many analysts tend to think Modi may be giving out blow-by-blow information on issues, developments and events, but he is holding back much more. “It was the same strategy that he adopted before elections and he is likely to continue with the winning formula as PM,” said an analyst who did not want to be named. Nobody is quite sure yet on whether the campaign strategy will work in the government as well.
Kiran Khalap, a brand and communication consultant at Chlorophyll, said: “I guess, we have switched from a drought in communication in the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) regime to a bumper crop in the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) rule. I welcome it, but only so long as it also allows a dialogue through some mechanism, otherwise it will rapidly reduce itself to propaganda, albeit a sophisticated version of it.”
Whether early or late, information from Modi’s office is non-stop. Even when his marathon meeting with government secretaries got over after 9 pm on Wednesday, Modi’s late-night tweet said: “Had a very fruitful meeting with secretaries. Heard their views and asked to simplify administrative processes and make the government people-friendly”. An official statement was also issued the same night on the details of the meeting. He has been equally vocal on protocol matters – for instance, his tweet acknowledged the gift of a sari for his mother from Pakistan Premier Nawaz Sharif.
In what could signal efficient control of information, Modi’s meetings or interactions with industry representatives have not found space so far in any of his communication platforms. Although it could not be officially confirmed, some top industrialists might have met Modi after he became PM. There’s no tweet or FB post or official statement on that. Business chambers, which usually greet a new PM, have not been given any time by the PM’s office yet, it is learnt.
Behind this communication strategy is a team led by people from Gujarat Modi trusts. Twitter and other networking sites are still being managed by a small group in the PMO in an informal way. The only formal appointment in Modi’s media apparatus has been that of 70-year-old Jagdish Thakker as the public relations officer (PRO) in the PMO, an official confirmed. Thakker was a trusted PRO at the chief minister’s office in Gujarat, and a close aide to Modi for 12 years. No decision has been taken yet on who should be the media advisor to the PM, if at all he chooses to have one.
While the government’s Press Information Bureau (PIB) has been providing support to the PMO under Modi on official announcements and photographs, a larger communication strategy is in the works and will be executed soon, according to a source. “What we are seeing now is just the initial footsteps towards transparency.” A big team will be in place in the coming days to put it all together.