Dear Mr. Deora,
Thanks for a great article in TOI of August 14, 2013. It was enlightening to hear the views of one of our elected representatives on a topic that’s close to the hearts of many a youngster in this country. However, some points you raised are worthy of a debate, the benefits of which you’ve extolled in your article, and hence a response was warranted. I will try to summarize your main points so as to keep the response closely tied to the article.
Point #1: Social media platforms do not allow for healthy debate, while our Parliament does.
This point of view is expected and unsurprising within the small minority amongst us who’re on the other side of the “Great Divide of Government of India”, but isn’t substantiated by facts. I call it the Divide because our governance system, from the Parliament at the top right down to the beat constable and peon in a sarkari office, is extremely hard to approach and get service from for a common citizen, which is the very reason for its existence. For the vast majority of the population of this country, it’s almost like a government for itself, by itself, and of itself.
Therefore, we do not hold the Parliament’s ability to hold healthy debates in any high esteem when we read reports that the number of hours that our Lok Sabha sits during its five-year term has been falling steadily, and reached the worst ever record in the 15th Lok Sabha (http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-04-29/india/38902758_1_lok-sabha-budget-session-sittings). Not only that, this Lok Sabha is also on its way to achieving the dubious distinction of having passed the fewest bills in independent India’s history.
So where does the common citizen go to express their anguish about a non-functioning government? Social media. For the first time, there is a platform that allows every individual the opportunity to be heard by millions of other people, and we’re going out there in hordes to talk about the pain we all on this side of the Divide experience every single day. For the average person, Twitter and Facebook are less about popularity and approval ratings like you mentioned, and more about spreading the word about their experiences and finding common cause with others.
Point #2: Changes that result due to outbursts enabled by social media are not well thought-through
You reference the Arab Spring and Iranian Awakening and the Brazilian protest, but miss the protests on the streets of New Delhi during Anna Hazare’s campaign and after the 2012 brutal gangrape incident. But you make a valid point. Protests by people are usually looked upon as a threat by established governments, and the point being made is missed for the noise, and slowly the protest transforms into an us-vs-them battle. However, did our government react any differently during the protests staged in India? Did we ever get closer to getting a Lokpal bill enacted or a corruption-free government? Did we ever get closer to having the streets of this country safe for our sisters and daughters? Unfortunately no. And this lack of solution-building is not attributable to the use of social media, but to the absence of a sensitive, humble, and engaged leadership within our government.
Point #3: Social media encourages pretence, showmanship, and shallow posturing
Assume social media doesn’t exist in our country. Walk out on the streets like a common man and watch how politicians, top bureaucrats, and the rich and powerful of this country move. You will see beacons, blaring sirens, police and personal security pushing everyone else aside, or stopping them altogether. From the posh NDMC areas, try walking towards other parts of Delhi where the top government officials of our country do not live. You will notice that broad, tree-lined, spotlessly clean boulevards give way to congested, filthy, broken roads that have people, vehicles, animals all crammed into every inch of space possible. If this isn’t pretence, showmanship, and posturing, what is? It’s not about the tools we use, but who we are and how we think that creates the vices that you ascribe to social media.
You are a young and well-educated leader of this country, and we are looking to you to bring a change in our country. What we need is very simple – equal access to basic amenities like clean water, air, food, and adequate housing, and equal opportunity to fulfill one’s dreams, for every single citizen of this country. We hope you care enough for your country and its people to work towards this goal, and will not get lost in the distractions that power in our country carries with it in heavy doses.