Nagaland: How tech savvy are our Politicians? Part I

Moa Jamir
Dimapur | June 11  

What do Sarbananda Sonowal, Pema Khandu and N Biren Singh have in common, besides being the Chief Ministers of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur respectively? They are all from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and use social media regularly to interact directly with the public.  

Sonowal currently has over 2.6 lakh followers on twitter while Khandu has over 11,000 followers. Biren Singh, who joined the bandwagon in March 2017, has nearly 17,000 followers.  

Apart from updating on their regular activities and government initiatives, they also frequently interact directly with the electorate.  

For better or worse, usage of social media—Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube has noticeably changed politics and governance around the world, and how the electorates interact with their representatives.  

A revolution in politics is underway and it is being fought 140 characters at a time, Gaby Hinsliff wrote in the Guardian last July. However, either the revolution is yet to reach Naga politicians or they are merely observing the changes incognito.  

This is surprising, as according to a report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Nielsen, Nagaland is ranked the top state in the North East region (NER), when it comes to “internet readiness.”  

The state also won the CSI- Nihilent e-Governance Award 2015-16, for outstanding performance in e-Governance; the first state in the country to commission the pilot project for National Information Infrastructure (NII); and a pioneer in implementing Aadhaar based Biometric Attendance System in Civil Secretariat in NER.    

State of affairs: Oblivion at the top

In September 2016, the Chief Minister’s Office website was launched by the then CM, TR Zeliang with much fanfare promising a “people-friendly” office.  

The website, a CMO release said, would contain events and functions attended by the Chief Minister and promised “an interactive page where the people can interact with the CMO with the intention of enabling the people to express their views and opinions on major issues.”

  A visit to the CMO website offers no such opportunities. Apart from changing the picture of previous incumbent to the new one, the website has nothing to offer, besides a few photos of functions the previous CM had attended.  

It remained largely inactive since the change of guard at the top, and is in a slumber after showing some semblance of activity in the first week of May.  

The official CMO twitter handle, @cmomediacell, created in September 2014 is also inactive since December 4, 2016.    

Avoiding direct confrontation?

Well, maybe because many people give immature comments especially in Facebook, reasoned Khamhie Konyak, an active blogger from Mon adding, people bring out the names of politicians even in matters which are not relevant.  

For Imkongnukla Ao, a young degree student, perhaps Naga politicians do not realize the importance of keeping in touch with the public and publicising new policies and initiatives through social media.  

Pitu Swu, an active blogger and founder of a popular Facebook Group The Naga Mirror puts it this way: “Politicians avoid social Media to avoid direct confrontation, where their misdeeds are easily targeted and their authority and integrity are questioned by thousands of faceless curious bloggers, unlike print and conventional media where they rule with manipulation.”  

“As human beings, we avoid exposure where we don't feel safe. So maybe this is also the reason why our politicians avoid open debate,” he added.  

Need for interaction

Imkongnukla meanwhile stated: “It is good if they also resort to social media as a medium to publicise policies, to hear the grievances of the weaker section, keep in touch with the common people and to make the system more transparent and accountable. We must make use of everything including technology, for the betterment of the society.”  

Khamhie also suggested that Naga politicians should engage with citizens, and the internet is the most convenient medium for the electorate to share their grievances directly.  

Toshi Longkumer, who is PA to a member of the Rajya Sabha, also stated that politicians in the state should be accessible to the public “as they are famously known as public servants.” Rejecting the idea of not being tech savvy as an excuse, he said that, social media is a “necessity to know the real issues in society, not living a fortified life.”  

For instance, almost every politician has assistants who are young and technologically updated. Twitter handles or Facebook pages and other social oriented apps can be easily operated by these assistants.  

“With total cut off from society and social media, they cannot do much, a testament to our present situation,” Longkumer added.  

Naga Blog founder Yanpvou Kikon meanwhile stated that politicians usually avoid social media because they are “still unaware on how to use it effectively or maybe they are scared of the voice of the people.”  

“Social media is here to stay, so unless they start utilising this new media to connect with the masses, they will lose out big time in the long run. Political and social dynamics are rapidly being influenced through social media. It will be wise to stay relevant rather than become outdated and obsolete.”  

Unlike traditional media where it was communication to the masses, Social media now enables communication from the masses, he said and pointed to how world leaders, from Trump to Modi, are using the power of social media to influence the masses.  

Unless political parties start using social media to connect with the people, those unable to take advantage of new media will be negatively impacted in the coming elections, he added.  

In Part II of this series : Departmental Websites: Glorious inertia