Ranjona Banerji: Modi and the battle of hashtags

09 Apr,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The television news cycle through Monday was consumed partly by the speeches of Narendra Modi and then by death of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Both have some similarities – Thatcher was a strong, dictatorial leader and so is Modi. However it remains to be seen whether Modi’s legacy will be quite as lasting as Thatcher’s.

 

The Modi speeches were amusing for the battle of the hashtags (#) that was played out on Twitter and by the capitulation of the news channels. The internet and social media in India are usually dominated by the rightwing and the controversial chief minister has a massive online fan club. For perhaps the first time – though one is loath to make pat statements like that – the anti-Modi brigade managed to pull one over his supporters. The hashtag #Feku – signifying someone who’s talk is all fake – was top of the Twitter “trending” worldwide list while the #ModistormsFICCI hashtag was at a lowly five, although it later climbed up. Kudos to firstpost.com for picking up the trend and putting out this story: http://www.firstpost.com/politics/on-twitter-anti-modi-feku-beats-modistormsficci-690166.html

 

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The news channels were straight on the messiah has arrived route after Modi’s speeches to the women’s wing of the business/commerce/industry organisation FICCI and later at a conclave organised by TV18 (which owns CNN-IBN, firstpost.com and other media outlets). Wit, charm, wonder and so on were the adjectives used.

 

The waffling and the long-drawn-out examples were glossed over. Although The Times of India in all its genuflecting did carry a piece dissecting the FICCI speech from a feminist point of view and found it lacking. The Indian Express was quick to point out that while lauding women entrepreneurship in cottage industries, Modi did not mention Ela Bhatt and Sewa, surely the most remarkable success from Gujarat and also that he laid claim to the success of the Lijjat Papad cooperative which as everyone should know started in Mumbai. If Markandey Katju, chairman of the Press Council of India is listening, he might work on a way to ensure cynicism and scepticism as the first hiring requirements for a journalist…

 

Some newspapers did mention the fact that these speeches – Modi’s and Rahul Gandhi’s to CII earlier – amount to little in our democratic system. But so enamoured is the Indian media of what they see of the presidential form of government as practised in the US (is civics taught in school any more in India?) that they imagine little Barack Obamas everywhere.

 

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The Goafest is over and has been much talked and written about – including on mxmindia.com. I caught an episode of Brand Equity on ET Now which discussed scam ads made for awards in light of the Ford Figo JWT scandal. I discovered that not only are scam ads now called “proactive work” but was slightly dismayed to find that the advertising industry was dissembling on the issue. Everyone seemed to acknowledge there was a problem but banning the practice of making ads only to win awards seemed out of the question.

 

The fact that the essence of advertising is to sell a product or service successfully has been sidestepped in this rush to get awards. But ads that are never seen by the public winning awards for successful selling – that’s bogus in the extreme!

 

The sexism inherent in the Ford Figo ads is another worrying factor – and what caused the controversy — but that seems to have taken a back seat to “proactive work”!

 

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