Being Young in Politics in the Age of Social Media

Between my father Mr Sunil Dutt’s generation and mine, politics has changed drastically. Today’s politics has become a lot more aggressive and in-your-face. There is greater awareness of politics among people and for politicians, there is more media to deal with. Sometimes, you do feel that your entire political campaign is on a media platform rather than for the people.

It wasn’t like this earlier. I have witnessed my father’s electoral campaigns and back then, politicians would make one-to-one connect with people. That sometimes is missing today because politicians take it for granted that they are available to people through so many media, including the social media. But even today, I do believe that the one-to-one connect with people of one’s constituency cannot be replaced by anything else.

A lot of learning from the elder politicians has come down to us, but it has also been filtered down. Eventually, we all create our own space and style of working. Specifically, we younger politicians use a lot more technology and organisation compared to the previous generation. Any MP’s office today is more organised about its outreach to people than before. There is a proactive attempt to be efficient about using as many media as possible. These days, people don’t have to come to an MP’s office and sit there all day waiting to get a paper signed.

Perhaps the biggest change in running election campaigns in 2014 is the emergence of the social media. I remember that I was among the first MPs to have said that I wanted my own website and connect to my people through email. I remember launching my website back then and thinking about how to use it for being transparent about my work. I used to put up all the details of how I used my MPLAD (Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) fund along with photographs. Gradually, I started connecting with a lot of people in my constituency through email and became very accessible. But now, social media has emerged so hugely that it is seen as a bad thing for a politician to not be on it.

The great thing about the newer generation of voters is that it has no inhibitions. I have had them come and question me about absolutely anything that bothers them. Despite having no familiarity with politicians, they are very upfront, direct and open with them about issues that they care about on social media.

On the flip-side, I disapprove of the aggressive behaviour on political issues that manifests on social media these days. It makes me angry at times because people post a lot of rubbish and insensitive and mean comments. This is all very convenient to do because one is sitting behind the computer screen, faceless and without a name, abusing whoever they want. But if you ask me, it’s a very cowardly thing to do.

There are lots of ways to get frustration about the state of things out in a constructive way. If you’re angry with a situation, how is it going to help you if you abuse the person anonymously on a website? You should go and approach that person.

Unfortunately, many people don’t want to make an effort beyond venting on social media. In my experience, it is possible to use social media constructively. Right after the Nirbhaya rape incident in New Delhi, I was getting SMS and social media messages from girls here expressing their frustration with the lack of women’s safety. I asked them to do something about it and promised my help in it. Eventually, that translated into a peace march with 700 people on Mumbai’s Carter Road that knocked at the local Assistant Commissioner of Police’s doors. The group put forward their demands through a signed memorandum and gave to the ACP as well as the Chief Minister.

Youngsters, as well-meaning as they may be when venting on social media, should know that life is not going to be so simple. They will have to face adversities and ups and downs throughout life. They should think about how they will deal with them without indulging in abusing and mudslinging.