Demonetisation and it’s after”math”!!!

Ever since the RBI released its Annual report 2 weeks ago, Demonitisation (DeMo) is back in the news. And with its eminent Ex-Governor Raghuram Rajan now in India to promote his book, DeMo continues to hog the headlines and Op-Ed pages. The analysis of DeMo swing from scathing criticism of being a “big mistake” by the likes of Ex-Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu to calling it a “huge success and a course correction” by the likes of Gurumurthy, the veteran commentator on public affairs. So, as it happens in most issues these days, “for every spin there is an equally effective and opposite counter spin”! And where you stand on an issue depends on where you stand on the ideological divide.  On social media, it was a hashtag war between #DeMomenisationsuccess and #DeMonetisationfailure!

Ten months on, based on all the data available (99% of DeMo notes coming back to the banks) it seems that DeMo has not helped in sucking out the black money. In retrospection, I wonder how the government expected anybody in India to give up their prized possession (currency notes in this context) at all in the first place. In my own experience, when coming out with marketing promotion programs for the trade, we usually take twice the time for foolproofing the program compared to conceiving the program itself. This is from the wisdom of previous programs over the years where, we found that the Indian brain works over time always to find loop holes/gaps in any program announced. So, in a sales promotion program for example the trade will end up earning the incentives while you never achieve the increased sales objectives!

This is what happened in DeMo as well. If you remember, the day DeMo was announced, the chattering class’ verdict on WhatsApp group and dining area discussions was that it was a “Master stroke”! While the middle class and upper middle class folks who didn’t have unaccounted cash had to just find ways of beating the lines to exchange their notes, the ones who had, started cranking their brains. The result was the everyday tweaking of the rules and adding more terms and conditions for currency conversion. The then Economic Affairs Secretary Saktikanda Das became a celebrity overnight, thanks to his daily media briefings on what else – change in rules!

By now, it is clear that notwithstanding the anti-DeMo commentary of economists, there was overarching, tacit support for the DeMo move from common public. Inspite of loss of business for traders, loss of jobs for casual workers and loss of income for farmers the Note Bandi didn’t evoke much unfavourable mood towards the BJP so far. I am not sure if it will, from now on. What explains this paradox?

Many of the commentators have alluded to the human trait of Schadenfreude to explain this. That the poor were happy because this was one move which affected the rich and privileged and that the Prime Minister Modi had the guts to do so. This is a good possibility. But there could be more to this as well.  Within days of the DeMo announcement, the initial despair among people who were caught unawares with a lot of unaccounted cash turned into a relief when, they found ways and means to deposit the same into the bank. Among many ingenious ways, one was to tap into their own staff and workers to distribute the cash and get them deposited into their bank accounts. A report said that by Dec, the deposits in Jan Dhan Accounts peaked to Rs.74,609 crore! As of Sep, it was just 4,273 crore! The number of Jan Dhan accounts itself went up 5 times in this period!  My guess is that, in this process of conversion through the conduit of using others’ accounts, there must have been a cost.  The government must have lost an opportunity to earn taxes on the unaccounted income but those who had a lot of unaccounted cash ended up incurring a “conversion tax”! And I am certain that those who were witness to the rich incurring this tax felt certainly happy that DeMo was an equalizer of sorts. And not just being a witness, there would have been many who would have benefited from the sudden largesse of their masters as well and got their share of the “conversion tax”. So, instead of the government collecting taxes from the haves and distributing to have-nots by way of welfare measures did DeMo make it as a Direct Benefit transfer from the rich to the poor without the government in between?  Probably.

It’s evident now that the DeMo move has been a rocking political success for the government. On the economic front, though the objective of sucking up the black money has not been achieved directly, certain fringe benefits have accrued. Like reduction in cash circulation, increase in Digital transactions, and increase in bank deposits,…  These may leave the country in good stead in the future.  In the short-term however, the country skipped its GDP beat.

So when one does the after”math” of DeMo, it may well be like the popular “Elephant and the Blind men” story. For some, it’s a failure. For some, it’s a success. For some, it’s a partial success and for some it could be a partial failure. I would like to go with Rajan’s assessment that the short-term economic losses far outweighed the long-term benefits.  In hindsight, one is always wise. Other times – otherwise!

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The Four letter F word News!!!

As far as I know, A.R. Rahman is an accomplished music composer. A musical genius, he is also known to be a very humble and genial human being. Usually minding his own business which is churning some out of the world, awesome music day in and day out.  Hence my antenna went up when I saw a post on Facebook and WhatsApp recently attributing him to a quote in a publication called ‘Verve’ claiming to be “the World’s No.1 Bulletin”. The postcard with his picture quoted him of being a Sufi Muslim and conveyed his stand against Cow slaughter. The post ended with him welcoming the Govt.’s recent move to curb Cow slaughter.  Only that, as I suspected this was a Fake News and the post entirely made up with his quotes taken out randomly from old interviews.  He had nowhere opined on Cow slaughter at all.

Welcome to the “New Normal”. Where it is quite normal to see “Fake News” being packaged and circulated as authentic News. Not just A.R. Rahman. Few weeks ago, a similar quote was attributed to Google’s chief Sundar Pichai as well. There was a time when there was just News. Not prefixed by any adjective of any kind. But the situation today is different. We have News of all kinds. News, Fake News, False News, Authentic News and so on.  If we just go by the Fake News around is, our National Anthem is the best in the world, the new 1000 Rs. note has an embedded GPS chip and some more inanities like that.

In Tamil Nadu, where I grew up, ‘The Hindu’ Newspaper was then the “Gold” standard for Newspapers. The joke then was even if there was a murder in broad daylight in front of the newspaper office in Chennai, The Hindu will not carry the News of that murder till the police came, filed the FIR and the postmortem report confirmed that it was indeed a murder! From that to what it is now, we have come a long way. I don’t know if The Hindu still maintains the same yard stick for reporting or not. But in general we know that with a smart phone in hand, everyone has become a reporter of sorts. And in the era of limited attention spans and competitive journalism, “Speed” of breaking the News has taken precedence to accuracy. In this race of “Breaking News” by the minute, truth and validation of News have fallen by the way side. Ironically.

While the above could be attributed to the tyranny of competitive journalism and not probably malafide intent, what is of more concern these days is the deliberate intention to spread False News, thereby outrage and influence opinion. Day in and day out factories in remote corners of India equipped with Internet, Photoshop, Video editors and Mixers churn out “Fake news” taking off from happenings of the day around the world. Thanks to the much empowered Social Media the output from these “Fake news factories” quickly attain ‘Viral velocity”. And when one gets up in the morning into your smart phone as usually it happens, these Fake News posts are on your face.  And without realizing, we contribute our might to the viral velocity by forwarding/Sharing the posts on a dozen odd groups we are usually part of these days and on our social media timelines. All these posts with an intended objective of colouring our opinions slowly do the trick in our mind. Result – we feel happy that though Rahman is a practicing Muslim he abhors Cow slaughter and quote this when the opportunity arises to few others.

You and I doing this is still fine. But the “Fake News factories” of late have started imbibing in its ranks opinion leaders, leading politicians, senior journalists and the like. They also seem to be falling prey to this and in their own naiveté or intent add value to the barrage of Fake News.  While the print medium is still immune to this Fake News syndrome, I feel that the Online medium where our consumption of News is the most these days is seriously afflicted. So when we see any News these days it becomes imperative to step back a bit and decipher if it is indeed News or News preceded by the dreaded 4 letter F word. “Fake” I meant.  Though Social Media sites like Facebook and Twitter have in the recent past resolved to put an end to the “Fake News” problem, the nature of the platform makes it almost impossible to put a stop to this. Yes with better technology and resources they can attempt to minimize. In India, the advent of few sites who now have taken up the role as watch dog for News/Media like Newslaundry, Altnews,.. does provide some hope.  By calling out Fake News as quickly as possible, these sites at least help to contain the damage before hell breaks loose.

So next time you stumble upon a vicious and seemingly propagandist post on WhatsApp or Facebook, step back a little and don’t jump to forward to other groups or share in your timeline!  You could thereby avoid becoming part of the “sleeper cell” of Forward factories trying to manufacture outrage by setting a convenient narrative.  As the old adage goes, “News comes first and then the Narrative”. And not the other way about as is the wont these days.

Postscript: And as far as those rib tickling LOL memes on Alia Bhat or for that matter on tomorrow’s Ind Vs Pak match, bring them on!

Leadership Marketing!!!

David Packard, Co-founder of Hewlett Packard famously said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the Marketing Department”.  He meant that in an organization, every individual – the CEO included, has to perform his/her bit in “marketing” the company’s products.  I am not sure if there is anybody else who has taken to this concept more keenly than Donald Trump, a CEO turned POTUS. How else could you explain this?? On the 28th Jan, Trump has a call with the Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull as part of his global leadership outreach since he became the President. Post the call, the official White House Readout on the call went thus:

“President Donald J. Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke by phone for twenty-five minutes today. Both leaders emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship that is critical for peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally”.

A few days hence, media reports emerged on the call which said, “Donald Trump yelled at Australian PM during “worst ever” phone call about refugee swap deal – then HUNG UP”. For obvious reasons, this report created a furore all over with the rumblings being heard for few days over. In the meantime Trump at a Prayer Breakfast added,

Believe me, when you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having – don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it,”

Now, here’s the intrigue. Apparently we hear that while on the call with Turnbull, Trump was joined by the then National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and senior advisor Steve Bannon. Only. So how did reports of his so called “yelling” and “hanging up” find their way to the media??? Surely the President’s office is not bugged by some media house! It’s clear that the media reports were a part of an orchestrated PR campaign to market the product called Trump. In this case it was clearly intended to send a message to his constituency which bought his message of “America First” during the campaign that he is tough and is now “Walking the Talk”.  Notwithstanding the tremors that the news of the call created, I am sure it did the job of enhancing Trump’s image among his supporters as a no nonsense leader. So it was not just important for Trump to talk tough on the refugee issue but to communicate to the world that he talked tough.

trump

Welcome to the age of “Leadership Marketing”!!!

Closer home too, we have parallels to this. Through Narendra Modi our Prime Minister. For example, when Heeraben, our PM’s mother visits him in Delhi and spends a few days at the official Prime Minister’s residence, we get to see pictures splashed in the newspapers of Narendra Modi with his mother. The source of this being the Prime Minister’s twitter handle itself where Modi posted pictures of him walking his mother in a wheel chair along with his tweet which said “My mother returns to Gujarat. Spent quality time with her after a long time & that too on her 1st visit to RCR”.  So to his many followers, the intended message is clear. Here’s a leader who is tender at heart with his mom while being blessed with a 56” chest in his own words to take on his adversaries.  In India more than spending time with wife and children, image of a leader taking care of his mother has a telling impact. Again it was not just enough for Modi to spend quality time with his mom but to inform the world that he did so!!!

America, arguably the global fountainhead of marketing has been in the forefront of adopting this technique with Trump now but even with Barack Obama before. Routinely we were fed with images of how the Obamas enjoyed quiet dinners at suburban restaurants on weekends. On Obama’s 55th birthday which was his last in Office, we saw plugs like “55 pictures of Obama discovering his inner child” and so on!!! In the case of Obama the positioning was not of a tough leader but of an affable and lovable man who cared for everybody.

In India, giving competition to our PM in Leadership Marketing is the Aam Aadmi Party Chief Arvind Kejriwal. He wears the positioning of Aam Aadmi on his sleeve. Literally. Even as a CM of a state he walks in chappals, wears loose fit clothes, tweets reviews of films he catches up on weekends,… to reinforce his positioning. The party also posts routinely on Facebook like this:

“Chief Minister of India’s Capital. No security, No VIP treatment. Truly Aam Aadmi,”  With the following picture:

ak1

Not surprising that the post got over 30,000 likes and 5,400 comments!!!

So, Leadership Marketing is no longer the exclusive domain of Americans.

In advocating this Leadership Marketing, I must say that the advent of Social media has made the job much easier. No need to depend on your PR agency to do the job. One could time it yourself.

On the flip side, the case of Vijay Mallya tweeting a picture of himself at a Super luxury hotel in Dubai and claiming to have a rocking time when his employees were hitting the streets for unpaid salary back home were bad optics and horrendous Leadership Marketing!!! Leadership Marketing is the new double edged sword in the arsenal for leaders to “position” themselves “right” in the battle for the minds and hearts. Double edged it is and hence they can’t leave it to the party’s publicity wing or an external agency but have to be on top of it themselves. Just as Packard advised.

As leaders engage in this marketing and optics, we the people need to develop the skill of separating wheat from the chaff and make our judgement objectively rather than fall for the optics or surround sound!!!

So the next time when you see a report quoting from an “inside source” of Trump banging the table during a meeting with Tim Cook for not making Apple phones in America or a clip of O.Paneer Selvam praying to a Jayalalitha’s picture tucked in his shirt pocket, you know why!!!

Somebody famously said, “The Future of Marketing is Leadership”. I am tempted to paraphrase in tune with today’s times as “The Future of Leadership is Marketing”. Amen.

Vox populi, vox Dei!!!

So finally Jallikattu happened.  May not be with the usual pomp and religious fervour. But with a lot of pride and chest thumping. After all, it was only made possible thanks to the collective will of the Tamil people which made the Governments heed to their demand for revoking the ban on Jallikattu.  A ban which dates back 3 years. The Jallikattu bull was tamed after the TN Government and the Central Government fixed the judicial match hurriedly by passing an ordinance in its favour. I say hurriedly because the passing of the ordinance didn’t happen after elaborate discussions.  Or after considerations of pros and cons.  May not be even after looking at different perspectives and after effects.  In all the 3 years they had as it should be when laws are made/amended. This happened as a knee jerk reaction to the people’s movement which overtook the streets of Chennai first and www soon which rattled the already tentative State Government. As is the wont these days, social media played its part to the “T” in mobilizing people at will.  Vox populi (Voice of the people) won the day!

Elections

As expected, this immediately triggered protests in the neigbouring state of Karnataka to lift the ban on its bull sport the Kambala. As we speak, attempts are underway to copy/paste the “Marina Model” the get the sport going. Going by the initial response of the Govt. it appears like Win No. 2 for Vox populi!

And this may not be the last. Inspired by these wins, more and more causes – some genuine and some not will be taken up in the streets and in social media. The conventional media in its quest to stay relevant will play the dutiful bridesmaid. Unlike the traditional yesterday’s protests which were pretty much local in nature that can be quelled by a lathi charge or a tear gas burst, the modern day protests which play smartly in smart phones and minds of interested people all over the world are impossible to control.  Ergo, more often than not Governments of the day are likely to succumb to the “viral” pressure and pass/amend laws that will pander to the campaigners, the genuineness of the cause notwithstanding.

The moot question is “What’s wrong with Vox populi?” After all in a democracy a Government is supposed to be “Of the People, By the People and For the People”. So if the people willed in favour of a particular thing, shouldn’t the Government just go by the flow? If majority of people want a change isn’t it the duty of the Government to bring about that change? I think the answer to these questions are more nuanced than it seems at the outset.

In a democracy a Government is formed by a party/dispensation which has the majority vote. Indeed it owes its ascendancy to power to the people who voted in its favour. However once in power, it’s no more a Government for just the people who voted for it. It is supposed to be an inclusive Government for all its citizens. Hence it becomes necessary to look at all sides of the issue before a law is made or amended. Precisely the reason why in India, we have an Upper house called the Rajya Sabha which has indirectly elected and nominated members from various walks of life as members. Rajya Sabha also has to pass any legislation apart from Lok Sabha if it has to become a law. Like India, most of the democratic countries have their own checks and balances by which an inclusive view is taken while appropriating any law.

In that sense, more and more wins for Vox populi is a dangerous trend. Bucking the trend would mean that the Government of the day at times would have to ignore the raucous voice of its own constituency in taking a stand on certain issues. In a pure political sense this is easier blogged than done! What is easy and convenient of course is to say Vox populi, vox Dei (Voice of People is Voice of God) or its desi equivalent in TamilMakkal Theerpe Mahesan Theerpu and move on.

How I wish Abraham Lincoln actually said – “Government Of the People, By the People For All People shall not perish from the Earth”!!!

A day of Digital Detoxing!!!

It’s not very often that I tune into FM Radio while driving. That space is usually kept for Indian Classical music, Ilayaraja and of late Kishore Kumar. A chance tuning to Red FM 93.5 a few days back spurred an idea which caught my imagination. The station amidst bajaoing the likes of the highly repulsive ‘baby ko bass pasand hai’ and its ilk, was filling in with a new segment called “Prayaas” which they explained was an attempt to create awareness on social causes. So that day’s Prayaas was devoted to what they called as the “digital” disease and described with a funny song how people have fallen into the “Digital Trap” in almost all walks of life. Aimed to be funny, it was thought provoking!

Coming to think of it, it’s a fact that most of the urban and semi urban population world over is today suffering from this “Digitalitis”! It’s an ailment which involuntarily spread itself with technology – first the internet and now the smart phone. Reams or rather terabytes have been consumed on how a day in the life of a human being has changed with the advent of the smart phone, on how a smart phone has made a person dumb and so on. Like the other day in a Coffee shop, one saw a lone guy. No big deal, right? But the surprise thing was he was not checking his phone. And was not on his laptop either. Was just sipping and enjoying his coffee. Somebody commented that he must be a psychopath😄😄. Today, a guy just sitting and having his coffee without being in the “Digital space” cannot be anything else!!!

In these days of waking into your smart phone and closing your eyes in the night after checking and responding to the last messages in the myriad groups in WhatsApp, what happens if you shut yourself “Digitally” for a day? A day of Digital Detoxing??? So that was yesterday for me when I decided to go back to the pre-smart phone days. That means – no WhatsApping even Good morning messages or indulging in weekend banter in at last count 46 groups😄😄. Not logging into Facebook even for greeting friends on Birthdays which I do very religiously now. (For a person who is bad at remembering dates, knowing the Birthdates of near and dear thro FB is a Godsend). No Tweeting, not even the usual satirical one liners (pakau stuff for some)! And no checking the phone now and then (as per the wife – every half a second!!) for business e mails!! And certainly no blogging😄😄

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Having decided to go through this, the first step was to announce this proudly to the wife. (Lest she should not think that her man is not well the whole day😜😜). The immediate reaction was in predictable lines. “One full day of Digital Detoxing??? No Chance”!! I challenge that you cannot cross even few minutes forget a day and all😜” Thoughts of all the past challenges with the wife which you invariably lost came to the mind! But I still muster courage and reaffirm my resolve to be detoxed. So what was my experience???

First up, the digital detox day started off with a bad omen. The tyranny of the I-phone battery ensured that the battery was drained out completely when I got up. So may be that was a good omen!!! After putting it up for charging, I touched my phone only to answer few calls whole of the day! And as an extension to the detox programme, the laptop was firmly entrenched in its bag!

The Omen – Good or Bad notwithstanding, the experience was not bad at all. Not only did I withstood for 12 hours, but went beyond that as well.  It certainly helped that it was a weekend and hence could afford to put away the phone in a corner of the drawing room. Of course there were temptations to check messages in WhatsApp but could resist without much ado.  When you don’t have to catch up with messages in the many WA groups in the early morning, you could get back to the youth habit of reading the newspaper from the “Mast head” to the “printed and published by,…” line. Oops nowadays it is from “one ad for a smart phone” to “another one for an Ecom sale”😄😄. No checking the phone while in signals or traffic jams which is an instinctive thing to do nowadays. Same while waiting in check-out counters while shopping! Could engage with banters with the wife and the daughter without interruptions. The banter went on and on that the wife felt that the regular day was better😄😄. The eyes which get moist in usual days staring most of the time on the laptop screen and straining on mobile screen felt relaxed. From multi-tasking (which is what you end up doing when you are working on the phone all the time) to single tasking, the day was more relaxing I felt.

Couple (only😄) of my friends called to check if all’s well with me – since they didn’t see the 2 blue ticks against messages sent to me over WA all through the day!

By evening, the sister called to check if there was some major fight with the wife at home. (Incidentally the wife also gave a miss to the regular Good morning message yesterday!!!). I had to convince the sister that the situation was quite the opposite – hopefully😄😄

Otherwise nothing much was missed! Today morning, could pick up the thread easily and move on. So maybe I should do it more often. And may be one day isn’t enough to feel the difference. So, to my fellow travelers in the digital age, do try this “digital detoxing”! But please inform your folks in advance that you are on Digital Detoxing😄😄 I will, certainly the next time which is most likely to be for a week!

Postscript:  In Chennai, I came across a restaurant where the patrons have to leave the mobile phones behind in lockers. Last heard – its doing well with the wives😄😄

Governance Delivered – By 140 characters!!!

“EPFO plans to hire social media agency”EPFO

This news bit resembling a 140 character tweet appearing somewhere in a corner in today’s Indian Express caught my attention and set the tone for my this week’s blog post. Has social media in general and Twitter in particular become so important a tool today for delivering Governance? Though our PM Narendra Modi has been in the forefront in using social media as an important medium for direct communication even before he became the PM, it’s only now (may be an year or so) since we started seeing other Ministers on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Apart from the Ministers themselves, we are now seeing even official accounts of Ministries, Secretaries and other key officials.

It’s a fact that Indian politicians except a few like Shashi Tharoor or Narendra Modi were quite slow in taking to social media. During the UPA rule when Tharoor as a Minister was quite active and visible on Twitter with day today updates of his work, Congress party admonished him to keep a low profile, we were told.  And that time from the opposition, leaders like Venkaiah Naidu took sly digs at Tharoor for his excessive tweeting!

More than 4 years later, the wheel has come a full circle. Naidu has an active Twitter account with more than 220K followers.  And it has now become the norm for the Ministers and other ruling politicians to customarily post updates on their day today activities and accomplishments on their FB page and/or on Twitter. We as citizens who had to depend earlier upon newspapers or TV reports (who in turn relied on press releases/briefings from Ministries) or Full page ads in newspapers released by parties to tom-tom their achievements (by the way this rotten practice continues to this day by all parties) now can get an idea of what is happening by “following” different ministers. Of course one must know to separate “gloats” from “ground reality”!  Apart from this method of feeding information – the game changer has been the emergence of a medium like Twitter to solve people’s problems.

We all now know how our Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj has become a darling of Overseas Indians because she religiously takes actions based on tweets directed at her asking for help. For those who get stuck in unforeseen situations that too in foreign shores, this has become a Godsend to cut across the Embassy security and bureaucratic maze and get the needed attention.  And similarly Suresh Prabhu, the Minister for Railways is another who is prompt in responding to passenger grievances on Twitter. So much so a passenger’s complaint tweeted from one station while he was on a journey got addressed by the time the train reached the next station! Or so we were told.  Routinely we see people tweeting to Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister for Commerce and Industry about various queries on policy matters,… and she makes it a point to respond diligently. In another positive use of social media, few days back Star anchor Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted about the need for a post office in Pithoragarh a small town in the Almora district – a mountainous stretch in Uttarakhand and lo, Ravi Shankar Prasad the concerned Minister obliged with opening of a new Post Office there I believe in 4 days!!! So it didn’t come as a surprise when the Ministers who were ranked high in opinion polls at Modi Sarkar’s 2 year Anniversary were all those who were active on social media. Not just active by their presence but by earnestly attempting to solve governance problems.

Though an active “twitterer” myself, I was initially a sceptic too. Whether the social media influence on public at large is an overrated phenomenon. After all a Facebook or a Twitter as a medium is still considered very urban and elitist and not one that reaches the bottom of the pyramid in a country where the political “fortunes” actually lie and where the IT penetration is a still a Work in slow progress. In fact, many including me were caught by surprise when a not so IT savvy grass root politician like Amit Shah, BJP’s President announced that one of the criteria for candidates for the upcoming UP polls was that they should have social media accounts and must be active on the same with XXXX number of followers! Is it that Modi is “bully pulpitting” the BJP and its leaders to take social media seriously and take advantage of the same???

May be or may not be actually. For the innately smart Indian politician (whether IT savvy or otherwise) it doesn’t get so difficult to grasp the growing utility of social media. There were many politicians in the pre- social media era too who earnestly addressed citizen issues being brought up to them thro petitions, letters, appeals,… However when they addressed those issues, it was only known to that petitioner or complainant concerned. However, in social media, when a Suresh Prabhu addresses a passenger issue promptly and responds on Twitter it reaches many of his followers. Multiple Retweeting then generates a humongous multiplier effect! And finally, if the story gets picked up by main stream media also then it delivers a huge reach – may be to the actual target audience of the Minister😃

So though social media still is very much urban and caters to a very literate and niche audience (considering India’s size) as of now, it is growing at a fast clip in terms of adoption. And more importantly what we see is social media today feeding off the narrative in main stream media routinely. What happens on Twitter gets lapped up and stories developed by many reporters, anchors and columnists for Newspapers, TV News,…

Yes, the obsession with “Trending on Twitter” by News channels and political parties may be completely misplaced. But if a political party gets also obsessed with using a Twitter as a medium to listen to the common man and communicate, it automatically becomes a very effective tool for delivering Governance. Today, it could be a staid EPFO that wants to be on social media. Tomorrow it could be a more staid Ministry of Ganga Rejuvenation😃. By the way, young boys and girls, managing social media has become a very attractive and powerful career option in political capitals!!! (more powerful than the “Personal Secretary” of yore)

P.S: Being very responsive on Twitter to deliver Governance also has its side effects. As Mrs. Swaraj recently found out. Somebody tweeted to her for help regarding problem with his Samsung Refrigerator😃😃 It’s another matter that the astute tweet got huge play and negative WOM for Samsung that I am sure the Tweeter would have got the desired result swiftly!!!

A WhatsApp’s message!!!

I am myself surprised to witness what has been happening the last 2 weeks. If I add “pleasantly though” to it I will be labelled a sadist. For some time now I have been vilified for many social evils happening in the world. From the time I came to existence though there has been an acceptance (grudgingly if I may add) that I am useful in connecting people from disparate parts of the world, there is also this constant nagging at my back. Of how I waste people’s time, of how I have managed to turn people into being unproductive, of how I have become a tool to circulate mischievous rumours, of how people use me to spread venom, of how I and my clan have even become soft tools in the hands of savvy terrorists and so on. In the company of my more august colleagues we have become one group against which the Governments all over the world have axes to grind. And I hear that they all are putting up plans to do what they do best –“Exert control”. So I will not be surprised if in the coming months/years there are UN summits to discuss laws to control us like the ongoing UN Climate change summit in France aimed at achieving a universal and legally binding agreement on Climate😃 (Does these UN Summits really deliver is a debate you guys should kick-start)

So under the circumstances, what happened or rather is happening in Chennai, India – the unprecedented deluge which hit the city at its heart throwing the city and its people out of gear has been our moment of comeuppance and a decisive one in that. Though it was not my intention to use an unfortunate natural calamity to send a message to our critics, (though sending messages across is my raison d’être) it might have ended up like that. I never imagined that in a short time since I was launched as “WhatsApp” into the hands of many human beings across the world, I would get to play a stellar role at the time of a huge humanitarian crisis like the one which happened in Chenna😄😄i. The crisis is yet over.

WhatsAPp

It is now normal for any individual in Urban India to be part of a few WhatsApp  “Groups”. One’s group range from “Immediate family” to “Dad’s side family” to “Mom’s side relatives” to “Cousins” to “Office team” to “Ex-Employer/s team” to “Living community” to “School” to “College/s” “Hobby” group and so on. And smart people who want to use me for their business have few more groups like customer groups, Vendor group,… And there are short time temp. Groups which are formed for certain events. The “Groups” may be many but I have noticed that the happenings are usually similar. From Good morning, Good night messages, Happy Birthday/Anniversary wishes, and then discussions which happen on and off ranging from being serious/purposeful stuff to frivolous time pass type. And there is this monster type called “forwards” usually taking up most of my server space – motivational messages, philosophical messages, Jokes and memes, articles, chain messages on Gods, those with political messaging,…,… I myself wonder how it would be to watch the same meme on Alia Bhat or Captain Vijayakanth again and again in different groups though I must admit here that they are extremely funny😄. In all this forwarding business, I got sucked into playing a huge part in resurrecting the career of guys like Alok Nath😁. And give a positive connotation to “Viralling” 😁😁. It’s now easy to know the time when one wakes up from the 1st message he/she sends through me. The 1st thing most people on earth do these days is check messages on me – again an accusation hurled at me as an addition inducer. My grudge has always been that inspite of being a powerful tool which is very useful to humanity in many ways what I got associated was that of a spoiler😩.

I guess however from now on things will be different. People put me into productive use in the last 1 week in the time of the Chennai crisis. From sharing updates on the latest weather to important information on road conditions to circulating info about people in distress the forwards were of the critical type. With no TV when power was down, people completely had to depend upon updates on social media. Groups which are generally are accused of gupshup used the forum to reach out to the needs of friends, near and dear. I’m not saying that the same people would not have responded if individually contacted through other means. But media like me which thrive on group communication have a demonstrative effect. The whole feeling of helping and supporting each other gets infectious in a group and end result has a multiplier effect. As the weather in Chennai returns to normal there is a big task in hand for the common public and the administration. Rescue is now over and it’s time for relief, rehabilitation of the affected and recovery to normalcy. Here again I hope to play a big role in being a platform for generating funds and resources from well-wishers all around the planet. If there is an identified agency which is engaged in relief measures, please use me to forward details of them among your “Groups” to raise funds. In the last few days, I am clear that there is no dearth for helpful souls and they are a plenty. To tap them is the crux of resource mobilization and I feel I can play a crucial role in this activity.

While being happy about the role we social media played in diffusing the crisis, I was also pained to see the other side. Like being used to spread wrong information to spread panic. Like forwarding pictures of Thailand cyclone and passing it off as Chennai floods. Like spreading mischievous message that crocodiles from the zoo have escaped (attaching some photo shopped pictures to effect). Like some political parties taking to social media to score brownie points at this hour of grave crisis. But one must not forget that we are a double-edged sword. It doesn’t take a long while for citizen groups to use us and expose the evil machinations of the politicians or their sycophant followers! So, I hope these will stop sooner or later.

From here on I do hope fervently that our group fondly revered sometimes and decried other times as “Social Media” consisting of my good associate Facebook and friends like Twitter is given our due place under the Sun. And folks like you should be proud for using us to play a constructive role when needed😃. So next time if you are bashed by somebody for being on “WhatsApp Chat all day long” don’t be guilty😃😃

Now, liked this?? Please take a minute to “forward” this to your Groups. Thanks😃😃😃