If you are a newbie in twitter, it would look like there is a war brewing up in Indian Social Network. A open and ferocious war between liberal open minded secular enlightened (LOSE) folks and bigoted right wing Hindu activists (“Internet Hindus” (IH) in LOSE parlance). A war in which no prisoners will be taken.
Sagarika Ghose hints that IH are an organised syndicate and likens them to “swarms of bees” which “come swarming after you at any mention of Modi, Muslims or Pakistan!”. Ashok Malik calls the IH’s “a collective of the intellectually inadequate, the professionally frustrated and the plain bigoted”. In fact, he goes one step further and writes “The Left has its universities, journals and institutional support system. It is a commentary on Internet Hindus that they only have multiple email accounts.” Things have come to such a head that Barkha Dutt once a strong votary of free speech now finds merit in regulating cyber space (I am sure her opinion might have hardened post Radiia tape episode). IH’s also have never lost an opportunity to call LOSE folks Pseudo Secular & Neo liberals.
But can this be explained so simply? Is this a skirmish of ideologies? In fact is this a clash of ideologues at all?
To understand this phenomenon , we have to first understand nation culture. Nation culture is defined as general attitudes, belief systems, values, and traditions, particular to a nation. The Hofstede Model of Cultural Dimensions is one of best tool available to analyzing a country’s culture. I will not bore the readers with all the cultural dimensions of Hofstede. The one which is most important for this discussion is dimension called Power Distance Index (PDI) which looks at the degree of Inequality between people in a society. According to Hofstede, the power distance index shows the extent to which people perceive inequality as normal.
PDI of India is 77 (United States is at 40) compared to a world average of 56.5 which indicates a high level of inequality of power and wealth within the society. Indians live in a very hierarchical society with Power centralized as much as possible in a few hands. The power elite don't like to share power or space with ‘Aam Admi’ who they perceive to be less equal. The power elite (PE) (phrase coined by Charles Wright Mills) is described as consisting of members of the corporate community, academia, politicians, media editors, military service personnel, and high-profile journalists.
Even after independence, Indian Power Elite has kept the modes and means of mass communication under their control. Even through the era of 24 hour of television news they managed to largely keep information distribution centralized and hierarchical as this was key to maintain their social status in society. To make things worse PE’s often even covered the tracks of corrupt and facilitated their continuance in power, why would one want to upset a well balanced apple cart? Now a days, the so-called ‘news’ on some mainstream TV channels and in some newspapers is nothing more than thinly-disguised propaganda to serve the interests of select few. Post 26/11, in a short space of time, new media and social networks have blitzkrieged their way into India's consciousness and usage, increasingly replacing traditional media. Now with advent of social networks like twitter things are coming apart on the PE’s. Social media has created a level playing field of fully leveled, distributed information and communication. It is helping the common man on the street to cross verify and cross refer information from the comfort of home within a matter of few minutes,.
Now, As opposed to mass media defining the parameters of debate and discussion, the reverse is happening. The discourse is being set using social media which is then filtering out into traditional forums (remember Radiaa Tapes, Tharoors holy cow statement which traditional media did not broadcast initially). Perhaps for first time in history, the press has started getting ‘bad press.’ A story seems doctored? Commentators will comment. A reporter misinforms his readers; they will make sure they set the record straight. When people in positions of authority – regardless of how high up the food chain they are – do (or say) something unacceptable, there will be blogposts and tweets and status updates on Facebook and endless comments about it. The gap between the common man and the politician or the bureaucrat, has been bridged. In pretwitter days, Aam Admi could not even dream of interacting and questioning the power elite (remember Barkha, Congress Spokesman etc being barraged with some tough questions). In fact, things have come to such a head that common man is now turning to social network for ‘authentic’ information.
PE’s who have enjoyed fruits of high PDI are now finding the ground slipping under their feet (literally). Those who have never been questioned or talked back now find being questioned and ridiculed just like any other individual. Scams or indiscretions of PE’s which would in ordinary times never seen daylight gets discussed and distributed freely. Power elite who have lived within the environment protected by their ‘elite’ status are now quaking in their boots. And their outburst against the ‘Aam Admi’ in twitter is just a manifestation of this cultural shock. Isn't it common sense that a country with more than 85% Hindu population will have higher concentration of Hindus in social media? In such case wont it be nobrainer that majority of people asking questions would be Hindus. The term ‘Internet Hindu’ itself seems to be delusional outburst of some PE who instead of accepting the reality found it easier to portray herself as victim and rakein some sympathy from fellow PE’s perhaps working on principle that only crying baby gets fed first.
Finally yes there is a war brewing in social media. It not a war between self appointed liberals and so called bigots. Its a tussle between haves and yesteryears have nots or Aam Admi. While the former is trying to maintain high PDI statusquo, the later is using technology (and numerical advantage) to create a more level playing field.
The current struggle in twitter can be summarized as Indias equivalent of Egypt!