Narendra Modi, Sheryl Sandberg and social media

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (Photo: Prime Minister Modi’s Facebook update)

It is said of cricket that it is an Indian game invented by the English. Similarly, it can be said that Facebook/Twitter are Narendra Modi apps invented by the Americans. I say this as an unqualified compliment lest the less discerning among my blog’s readers don’t get it.

Perhaps there is no more effective proponent of social media apps on the world stage, in particular Facebook and Twitter, than India’s prime minister. Those are the tools which have given Prime Minister Modi an exhilarating sense of freedom from intermediaries. Politicians do not like intermediaries and no politician likes them less than Modi. Given his natural ability and need to communicate directly with his constituents the prime minister finds in these apps a path with no stop signs or tolls.

One does not have to agree or disagree with his ideology, policies or politics to recognize that here is a politician who has internalized the importance of social media. I think his idea that Facebook can be a powerful tool to propagate the 150th anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi in 2019, especially the core idea of national cleanliness, is an excellent one. The power of physical cleanliness has to be harnessed to its full potential. People do not realize the subliminal effects of clean surroundings in nation building. Gandhi was obsessed with it. As always, it bears repeating what I wrote on October 5, last year about it.

“Since the grandees of India’s two main rival political parties, namely the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, are trading barbs on whether the country needs more toilets or temples, let me quote from a speech by Gandhi on February 4, 1916, in Banaras. Gandhi was fresh from his remarkable activism in South Africa and had returned to India only the previous year after being away for over two decades.

This speech was on the occasion of the opening of the Banaras Hindu University. Here are the relevant excerpts:

“I want to think audibly this evening. I do not want to make a speech and if you find me this evening speaking without reserve, pray, consider that you are only sharing the thoughts of a man who allows himself to think audibly, and if you think that I seem to transgress the limits that courtesy imposes upon me, pardon me for the liberty I may be taking.

I visited the Vishwanath temple last evening, and as I was walking through those lanes, these were the thoughts that touched me. If a stranger dropped from above on to this great temple, and he had to consider what we as Hindus were, would he not be justified in condemning us? Is not this great temple a reflection of our own character? I speak feelingly, as a Hindu. Is it right that the lanes of our sacred temple should be as dirty as they are? The houses round about are built anyhow. The lanes are tortuous and narrow. If even our temples are not models of roominess and cleanliness, what can our self-government be? Shall our temples be abodes of holiness, cleanliness and peace as soon as the English have retired from India, either of their own pleasure or by compulsion, bag and baggage?

I entirely agree with the President of the Congress that before we think of self-government, we shall have to do the necessary plodding. In every city there are two divisions, the cantonment and the city proper. The city mostly is a stinking den. But we are a people unused to city life. But if we want city life, we cannot reproduce the easy-going hamlet life. It is not comforting to think that people walk about the streets of Indian Bombay under the perpetual fear of dwellers in the storeyed building spitting upon them.”

It was quite an indictment on quite a platform even as a momentum in India’sfreedom movement picking up pace. The broader point Gandhi was making was there was no sense to self-government for the sake of self-government if it did not mean perceptible improvement at the ground level, including the way people conducted themselves. To him it was much more than just about replacing the leadership in Delhi. It was about transforming the whole culture.”

So yes, there could not be a more practical and yet greatly symbolic tribute to the great man than cleaning and scrubbing India like never before as we approach his 150th birth anniversary. Cleanliness is a non-partisan theme. Facebook can certainly be an important tool in achieving that objective. I don’t want to second-guess a great mind but it seems logical that in this era Gandhi would have extracted every last ounce of benefit out of social media apps for a larger good.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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