India Insight

Shashi Tharoor on Congress’ social media plans, digital presence of Gandhis

By Aditya Kalra and David Lalmalsawma

Political parties in India are relying more on social media ahead of the 2014 election as a way of increasing voter support, even though politicians in general do not expect such efforts to influence election results.

India Insight interviewed Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for human resources and one of the earliest adopters of Twitter in Indian politics. Here are edited excerpts of the interview:

Can social media be a game changer in the upcoming general election?
I think it can be a game influencer, but I wouldn’t go beyond that at this stage, because what we are discovering is that you need various ways of reaching out to the electorate, and social media happens to offer an additional way, not a substitute for any of the traditional means of campaigning.

Do you see this as a tool that can help win more votes or is it just a brand-building exercise?
Brand building should help you win more votes, otherwise what’s the point. We are certainly looking at this as one more way of attracting voters and helping change the minds of certain kinds of voters. There is an overall brand-building exercise involved in any use of social media, there is a way of using social media to refute charges or to change or correct a narrative.

(Also read: Social media not a game changer in 2014 elections)

What is the social media strategy ahead of the general election?
A number of workshops are being conducted. So yes, we are trying to educate party workers and party sympathizers who are interested in how to use social media constructively. And frankly, I think it’s already begun in many ways to show an impact.

Arvind Gupta, BJP IT cell head, on party’s social media plans

By Aditya Kalra and David Lalmalsawma

Political parties in India are relying more on social media ahead of the 2014 election as a way of increasing voter support, even though politicians in general do not expect such efforts to significantly influence election results.

India Insight interviewed Arvind Gupta, head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT division, in July about social media and the party’s plans for the elections. Here are edited excerpts:

Why the recent social media push?
It’s not sudden for us. We have been engaged in social media for the last three to four years. It’s been a consistent effort. I think only in the early part of this year, people started realizing that this could be one of the accelerators. I don’t call it a game changer, but an accelerator in this election.

India’s parliament gets its groove back, at least for now

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

India’s notoriously disruptive parliament has been going through a productive phase in the past two days. Bills are getting passed, politicians are discussing the state of the economy and for a change, members are listening to each other as they deliver well-researched speeches.

For a house with one of the poorest records of accomplishments in Indian history, the last two days were downright atypical.

On Monday, parliament debated a $20 billion plan for nine hours to provide cheap food to two thirds of the population. For a change, the government got the main opposition party on board by incorporating some of the changes that its opponents proposed.

The BJP and the Congress: a muddled economic ideology

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

As debates in India go, the one between Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati – two of India’s leading economists – has been fairly civil. Not the belligerent speeches or noisy protests that characterise public discourse in the country. Instead, this battle of ideas is taking place in the rarefied circle of the nation’s think tanks and financial pages, with economists, writers and policy makers weighing in. But the civility cannot mask the intensity on both sides; moving beyond economic data and models, the debate has become personal. At stake is a very powerful question – what is the best way to improve the lot of India’s citizens?

Conveniently, both sides have articulated their vision for the country in two recent books. The first by Sen and his long time collaborator, Jean Dreze, titled “An Uncertain Glory” questions why India continues to lag on all social indicators despite two decades of free-market reforms. Their data shows that the country’s growth has largely bypassed the poor and that the reforms have benefited a privileged minority. To correct this imbalance, Sen and Dreze make the case for greater public intervention in health and education.

On the other side of the economic spectrum is ”Why Growth Matters“ by Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya, his colleague at Columbia University. Their book is a forceful defence of India’s growth story. Bhagwati and Panagariya assert that reducing the role of the government and allowing private enterprises to flourish is the only way to lift millions of Indians out of poverty. The state can fund welfare programs only if the economy is growing at a fair clip and public revenues are healthy. That such an idea is even up for debate is frustrating to them.

Interview with BJP leader Narendra Modi

By Ross Colvin and Sruthi Gottipati

Narendra Modi is a polarising figure, evoking visceral reactions across the political spectrum. Critics call him a dictator while supporters believe he could make India an Asian superpower. (Read a special report on Modi here)

Reuters spoke to Modi at his official Gandhinagar residence in a rare interview, the first since he was appointed head of the BJP’s election campaign in June.

Here are edited excerpts from the interview. The questions are paraphrased and some of Modi’s replies have been translated from Hindi.

Quote, unquote Narendra Modi

When Narendra Modi speaks, people listen. It’s not just because he’s widely expected to be the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) candidate for prime minister in elections due in 2014. The chief minister of Gujarat seems to know his audience well. They cheer him on and jeer at his opponents; they applaud every two minutes. But sometimes, what he says catches people’s attention.

(The Narendra Modi interview: puppy remark and more)

Here are some of Modi’s statements that made headlines:

“From snake-charmers, we are now a nation of mouse-charmers. Our youngsters are shaping the world with the click of a mouse with their feats in the IT sector,” he told an audience of students at Delhi University’s Shri Ram College of Commerce on Feb. 6.

The speech, broadcast on television, was seen by many as Modi’s first pitch to young, educated India as its future leader. He also said:

Kejriwal’s party gears up for Delhi polls with election reforms

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The Aam Aadmi Party (common man’s party), led by bureaucrat-turned-activist Arvind Kejriwal, is gearing up for state-level polls in Delhi this year with an array of candidates chosen for their honesty.

Kejriwal’s election plank is to cleanse India of corrupt politicians and bring more transparency to government. With graft scandals embarrassing the ruling Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Aam Aadmi Party is taking a more grassroots approach to the problem: weed out the bad ones before they become candidates.

Anyone can hope to be a election candidate for the party if they are endorsed by 100 potential voters from the constituency they hope to represent. Political analysts say that’s not too difficult but makes the process more transparent.

I’m an Indian politician… on TV

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters Corp)

Are they parliamentarians, or do they just play ones on TV? After pushing through proposals on foreign investment in the retail and the aviation sector late last year, India’s elected representatives apparently have decided to get as little done as possible during the current session.

On television, it’s another matter. Newsroom studios appear to be the preferred forum for debating problems and legislation that normally would be the province of parliament. Those include recent demands by the coalition government’s prime opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party, for the resignations of the prime minister, law minister and the railway minister over accusations that the government interfered with an investigation of improper allocation of coal mine licenses and certain other bribery allegations.

State elections loom in Karnataka, a state split wide open

With legislative assembly elections in the state of Karnataka just weeks away, politicians are preparing for an ugly battle for a state whose political future looks wide open.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be hard pressed to hang on to its lead in the state after its once tight-knit leadership ranks frayed under corruption charges and infighting. Given their recent poor performance in the urban local body elections, they might have much to worry about.

“Infighting cost us. KJP (Karnataka Janata Paksha) and BSR Congress also took away our votes,” said state Higher Education Minister C.T. Ravi. But they don’t appear to be too unhappy because only about 30 percent of the state electorate was eligible to vote in the local polls.

Narendra Modi’s media blitz fraught with risk

(This commentary reflects the thoughts of the author. It does not reflect anyone else’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

During Gujarat’s elections last year, incumbent Chief Minister Narendra Modi used 3D technology to appear at more than one political rally simultaneously. Now re-elected, the man has increased his omnipresence, if such a thing is possible, with help from the media.

On April 8, Modi addressed the women’s wing of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The same evening, he was at Network18’s summit outlining his vision for India. The next day, Modi addressed businessmen in Kolkata, West Bengal. Later in the day, he delivered a fiery speech to his party people. All of these appearances got plenty of TV coverage, website analysis and Twitter attention.

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