Chandan Mitra’s bigger sin: Slamming Twitterati or falling in Barkha’s trap?

A lot has been said about what Dr Chandan Mitra said on Barkha Dutt’s show last night. Barkha Dutt, was relishing her role as a front-line spinner bowling to Dr Mitra, who also happens to be a journalist. Barkha bowled a delivery with sharp spin and bounce and Dr Mitra was deceived completely and was caught plumb Leg Before Wicket or in other words, Foot In Mouth. Considering that Dr Mitra is himself a seasoned journalist, one would expect him to play such deliveries well, but he was foxed.

If any “jobless” troll from social media sees the below video, he would realise exactly what mistake Dr Mitra committed:

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Barkha Dutt puts the proposition that pressure from Social Media has often led to the Government changing its decisions, leading to flip-flops. To prove her point she quotes the example of the Indo-Pak cricket series which. She further says: The BCCI was keen to have the series, Anurag Thakur (a BJP leader) supports the series, many leaders in the Government also support the resumption of cricketing ties, and eventually the Government “back-tracks” on the series, because of public backlash.

Now, there are two ways to deal with the above: The smart way and the Dr Mitra way. First see what Dr Mitra said:

Dr Mitra to Barkha: You’re making too many conjectures. I don’t think any Government can actually frame foreign policy or any other policy on the basis of the Twitterati. It is hyperbolic at times. And BJP’s policies are not decided by Twitter. I absolutely and categorically state that Twitterati does not influence policy. Yes its a useful sounding board, how some people, with nothing better to do express their opinion on various subjects.

Now, see the smart way: First of all, any BJP leader should know, that Barkha’s assertions themselves are wrong. She claims that the Government “back-tracked” on Indo-Pak cricket. But fact is, the news that Government had given the go ahead was only a source based media report and on the very same day, MEA had categorically said that no decision had been taken on this issue. We had covered this issue in detail here. Till today, the status remains the same with no official confirmation of any such cricket series.

So the correct response from Dr Mitra would have been to first deny Barkha’s claims that the Government had back-tracked. This would then render the 2nd point that it had back-tracked because of social media outrage irrelevant, because there was no “back-track” at all.

Further, Dr Mitra’s main point that Government policies are not and should not be framed solely on Twitter outrage is quite reasonable, but the name calling is not at all desirable. Governance is in fact a fine balance of giving to the public what they want and also giving in small doses, what they should take, but may not want. It is a nuanced position and a similar nuanced argument was the need of the hour but Dr Mitra went down too far down a path.

It is also amusing to see Dr Mitra and indeed others, see Twitterati as a different set of people, different from its “real”, on the ground supporters. “Twitterati” are as much part of the BJP’s voter base and worker base in some cases, as much as the local Booth pramukh who would have probably gotten his job out of patronage to the local BJP leader. Further, it is the duty of every political party to respect and consider the views its supporters, be it offline or online.

Dr Mitra’s brushing away of these people is quite odd, but may stem from the fact that he was regularly panned by Twitterati for his poor showing on media debates, even before the 2014 elections. (And as you can guess, due to yesterday’s poor performance, he is being skewered online again, and thus the hate-hate relationship will go into a vicious cycle)

And as the event and the outrage has panned out, Dr Mitra finds himself isolated in his attack on social media trolls. Several elected members of BJP such as MLAs, MPs and even Ministers have tweeted in support of their “jobless” social media supporters.

Dr Mitra and company need to understand that unlike other parties’ supporters, BJP’s supporters are not “blind bhakts” and in fact criticize the party and its leaders often. If the voters feel that the party and the cause that they voted for, is not acting according to their pre-election promises, it is the right and duty of the voters, in this case “jobless” “Twitterati” to take to task the political party. And a truly democratic and receptive party on its part, should engage in communicating with the disgruntled section or course correction if needed. Or else, the party may not fare as well as it expects in coming elections. The Bhakt Stops here, Dr Mitra.

P.S.: This is what Dr Mitra thought of Twitter as a medium back in 2009 ;)

co-founder, OpIndia.com

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