(This was written before Narendra Modi decided to cancel the event.)
This year’s Lok Sabha election will be remembered for a variety of reasons for years to come. An ‘outsider’ who loathes the Delhi elite (they are rattled as never before by the prospect of his coming to power) rose to become the strongest challenger for the Prime Minister’s office. Narendra Modi led the race by miles, securing endorsement from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. And, he revived the moribund organisation of the BJP, breathing new energy and fire into party workers while inspiring more than a million volunteers to join the campaign. Even before the campaign had formally begun, the man had become the idea whose time had come. In a country that celebrates mediocrity, Modi’s rise has reaffirmed faith in the virtues of hard work and merit.
This year’s election will also be remembered for the coming of age of social media in India. The extensive use of social media platforms, especially Twitter and Facebook, by Modi has paid rich dividends. He was the first to spot the potential of social media to drive his message of change and capture the imagination of Young India. Millions of Indians saw in him their beacon of inspiration, someone determined to challenge and smash the status quo. The bonding between Modi and his fans on social media is unique in the annals of Indian politics.
Modi has dared to experiment with innovative ideas on social media while bypassing what is referred to as ‘mainstream media’ with its hacks and hackneyed talk shows featuring the same lot of studio-hopping ‘commentators’ and ‘star’ anchors, both part of the Delhi elite. He was the first politician to participate in a Google Hangout – such was the enthusiastic response across the world that servers crashed. On March 3 he will participate in yet another first of its kind – a town hall like Facebook Talks Live event.
A friend who does data analytics had this to say: “This is all about him. It’s as if he is coming home. Where else would he be? With 11 million fans he has 10 per cent of Facebook’s user base in India engaged with him and he is coming home to meet them.” This is how the numbers and trends stack up:
» More than 93 million people in India are on Facebook, engaging actively every month. There are 41 million people in India who are active daily on Facebook.
» India has more than 75 million people who access Facebook via mobile every month. There are 31 million people active daily on Facebook via mobile.
» Facebook top trending leaders and topics in 2013 were: 1) Narendra Modi; 2) Sachin Tendulkar; 3) iPhone 5s; 4) Raghuram Rajan; 5) Mangalyaan.
» Current trends show Narendra Modi leading over everybody else in the electoral race by miles.
How does Modi’s Facebook page fare? When I last checked at 9:08 pm on Saturday, March 1, he had 10,842,349 fans. By Sunday he would have nearly 11 million fans. Ever since the Facebook Talks Live event was announced on February 19, the number of his fans has grown by 261,378 – and it’s literally growing by the minute.
Seen against this backdrop, it’s a brilliant strategic move by Modi to engage with his supporters by leveraging his presence on social media. Potentially 11 million of his supporters could watch him interacting live on March 3. Equally potentially, a vast number of Facebook’s 93 million users in India could also participate in this event. Add to this live tweeting and re-tweeting by his millions of supporters and the spinoff is truly mind-boggling. This could easily become the biggest political outreach event of this year’s election. Only Modi could have figured out the strategic gains to be made as the final lap of the 2014 campaign begins.
(The March 3 event, anchored by veteran journalist Madhu Trehan, will be live 8 pm to 9 pm on FBTalksLive .)