The Tomar episode, when social media set the agenda and put the government on the back foot, is one more example of rise of people’s power online. The political class in India has been shaken by the speed and efficiency with which the recent protests were coordinated. Some of them, like Abhijit Mukherjee, have ended up putting their foot in their mouth while others like Congress’ youth icon and heir apparentRahul Gandhi have not even cared to react.
The reason for Tomar’s death is still unclear, but the post-mortem report has attributed it to external injuries.
“Frankly, right now, we haven’t figured out how to deal with this phenomenon,” said Congress Party Spokesman Sandeep Dikshit.
The anti-corruption movement of Anna Hazare, theOccupy Wall Street movement in the US, and the Arab Spring were all largely organised through social networking sites. Even in neighbouring Pakistan, the raid that killed al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was first reported on microblogging site Twitter, further highlighting social media’s growing importance as a source of information. Such is the influence and impact of social media that many are increasingly referring to it as the “fifth pillar of democracy”.
Influence Bound to Grow
India has over 120 million Internet users – Twitter has about 16 million and Facebook over 60 million – but this is still just one-tenth of the population.
Also, as 3G penetration increases, data becomes accessible on more feature phones. While about 221 million mobiles were sold in India in 2012, sales are expected to touch 251 million units in 2013, according to technology market researcher Gartner. With so much of growth still left to come, the influence of social media is only bound to grow.
Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor, one of the early converts to social media and inveterate tweeter, said the social media space is a “parallel universe to the mainstream media” and that stories on these platforms have a “resonance of their own”.
“It is a medium that allows big issues to be made out of issues that mainstream media ignores but politicians cannot,” he said.
Brand guru Harish Bijoor is of the view that the political class must pay attention to the information revolution as India is a very young country in terms of demographics. “The political class appears a gerontocracy while 54% of the population is below 25 and 70% below 35. There is a disconnect that must be addressed.”