Social media is not the barometer of nation’s mood.

Social media is increasingly influencing policy makers, politicians and bureaucrats in visualizing and shaping some of the key decisions that have a very comprehensive impact on all citizens. Mass media too these days is factoring social media reactions heavily in their analysis and in building their viewpoint on many issues. If we go by social media indicators, Trump was losing heavily, BJP was going to win a majority in Bihar and Delhi elections, and demonetization was to have some minor inconveniences to most of the people.

Social media has limited capacity to assess the impact or reaction of mass when you consider that it only represents a fraction of overall population. Only 36.5% people in India have access to internet (just to keep in mind that in majority of internet access surveys define internet users as those who have accessed Internet once, the percentage of regular users is very small). And, 71% of the internet users are male, and majority resides in urban and peri-urban areas.

Furthermore, the distinctly urban, male-dominated, educated and privileged profile of social media does not only result in opinions and views that only reflect beliefs and interests of dominant segments but also discourages others who do not have similar opinions from sharing their opinions, a phenomenon known as spiral of silence.

Another very interesting aspect of social media platform is how an idea or opinion is judged. It is all about likes, retweet and shares. And, everyone’s likes, retweets and shares carry the same weight; approval or disapproval is just a mouse click away. This is relevant and logical when we are talking about topics such as who is more popular Shahrukh Khan or Akshay Kumar, or whether you like a Mac or PC.But it takes a very interesting turn when we are assessing evaluating technical topics based on social media reaction.

Some topics, such as whether we should be going for genetically modified crops, we should set up nuclear power-plants, or what should be our approach to managing environment and forest, require far more technical understanding and expertise for discussion and cannot be judged on the basis of likes, dislikes or retweets. But on social media opinion (read approval/disapproval in form of a click) of an environmental expert is same as that of any other person. 1000 retweets and shares of a viewpoint/opinion do not make that valid if the opinion/viewpoint is technically flawed or invalid.

Empathy and Economics

One of the most annoying thing in the pre-cable/satellite television era was Doordarashan mourning demise of political leaders or other eminent personalities. It meant that there is no music, movies or anything related to entertainment on our television. As a kid, we did not like the forced mourning on us. The other thing that we did not like was the news for hearing impaired.

Once the cable TV made its entry in our home, we completely forgot the forced national mourning and the news for hearing impaired. In fact, we forgot Doordarshan.

Sometime back, on Pune airport, waiting for my delayed flight I looked at the television set placed overhead in the waiting area. It was tuned to Doordarshan. And, it was time for the news for hearing impaired. The news, apart from nostalgia, left me thinking that why does only Doordarshan broadcasts this news? Why not any other channel?

The answer was obvious and a bit uncomfortable one. Broadcasting news for hearing impaired is not a profitable business. It is not viable. And in the era of market based solutions, the market for this news is not attractive. Providing solutions for those who do not constitute ‘a viable market’ is not the priority of the market. The economics does not make somebody enter this segment. And, it is ‘Economics’, not empathy, that drives the market.

Bihar: A Glorious Past and An Uncertain Future

As I walked past a small hut the chorus of ‘ek duni do.. do duni char.. caught my attention. The sound was coming from the hut on my left. I took  this route many times, but never stopped to have a second look on the hut. It was so commonplace in a village full of huts. I stopped and so did a couple of people who were with me. One of them was a visitor from Japan.

There were around 20 kids in the hut, swaying back and forth and reciting  do ka pahada (table of two). Some of the kids seemed too young to be learning tables.  The teacher was nowhere to be seen.  Yes, this hut was one of the several centres under Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). The kids spotted us, some kids stopped their recital and took stock of us. Soon, they realized that we are some random visitors making them victim of our stupid  curiosity. Soon a young lady, barefoot, hastily covering her head with pallu walked in to the hut. She was the teacher. Suddenly, there was more enthusiasm and participation in the recital.

ICDS Centre in Lalpura, Vaishali

ICDS Centre in Lalpura, Vaishali

There was a sudden onrush of mixed emotions. Nostalgia, pride, frustration, helplessness, happiness and hope were all mingled together. The kids were oblivious of the odds against them. Uncertain of what lies ahead of the hut. Many of them may were there because their parents sent them to get free food there. And, many of them will dropout after this school. But some of them will surely defy many odds to achieve what their parents never dreamt of.

Ashokan Pillar at Kolhua, near Vaishali

Ashokan Pillar at Kolhua, near Vaishali

It was very ironic. We were in Vaishali: birthplace of Lord Mahavir, workplace of Budhha and the capital of the glorious Licchavi clan. The hut was on our way to Ashokan piller and Abhishek Pushkarni : two reminders of our glorious past. Every person that you will meet from this area will not forget to highlight our past glory. I too, do it without fail when I meet someone who wants to know more about my home state. Often, this helps when I am not keen to discuss the embarrassing present and uncertain future.

A few meters away from that hut, one can find the world peace pagoda and several other palatial Buddhist stupa and temples. These stupas and temples are constructed by several Buddhist countries such as Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Japan etc. Every year a horde of tourist visit this place to experience and appreciate the work of Budhha and Mahavira.

I look at these temples and stupas which are meant for celebrating the teachings of our enlightened souls and several questions pop up. Would  kids there in the hut be able to enjoy and celebrate the teachings of Buddha and Mahavira? What if there were a few schools also built along with the stupas? What if there were enough schools here? What if teachers were inspired by  selfless services of Budhha and Mahavira?

Chennai 3.0

Chennai celebrates its 369th birthday. Though my professional commitments and other constraints  deprived me from participating in the celebrations, I did get a chance to attend ‘Chennai 3.0’ organized by Confederation of Indian Industries (CII). The theme of the conference was “Chennai – Evolution Today, Revolution Tomorrow”.  And, I have no doubts seeing the growth plans and the people behind the evolution, revolution is bound to happen.  CII did a great job to get industrialists, city planners, bureaucrats and politicians all on the same platform and talk different aspects of Chennai today and tomorrow.

While everybody presented their vision for Chennai and how ‘the Detroit of India’ should move forward to become the world class city, it was intriguing (and one of the speakers highlighted this) that none of the Chennai based industries/business houses came forward to sponsor the event. I was bemused seeing most of the speakers talking about inclusive growth and sustainable growth but they did not highlight any of concrete plans to give any indication how they are going to achieve that. Though we had detailed plans on how to solve problems of Car Parking, Shopping Space, satellite cities and how to make Chennai Airport a world class airport, but somehow problems of commoners living in Chennai took back seat like the commoners present in the TAJ Conference Hall. But probably this was not primarily intended to dwell upon that, it was more of a celebrations of achievements of this city and setting up the context for future growth and expansion.

My personal experience with Chennai has been really wonderful, earlier I was a bit hesitant to think Chennai as the preferred workplace, but after my fieldwork in Tamilnadu and now more than one year in Chennai I love the city.