Thursday 19 October 2017 News Updated at 12:10 PM IST
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In Gujarat, the masters of social media are tongue-tied! - Deccan Herald
In Gujarat, the masters of social media are tongue-tied!
Sunil Raghu
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Circa 2002. Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat was on a 'Gaurav Yatra' soon after the ghastly train burning in Godhra and the equally dastardly post-Godhra riots. The Yatra was to appeal to the pride of the people of Gujarat, as his government was receiving flak from various quarters over the riots. Everywhere Modi went on his rath, he was welcomed by hordes of people - mainly women and youth.

Ever since, Modi's focus has been on the youth vote. And he knows that the youth account for more than 60% of India's population. "The youth vote cuts across class, caste and gender. It is relatively easy to convince them if you speak their language as they do not carry any baggage from the past. They do not compare, but look to the future. So, you just need to talk to them about the future," a BJP strategist said. "Modiji has always believed this and if you see his politics and governance, it has always been focussed on the youth and the future. Although he has got the life-long tag of being 'Hindu Hriday Samrat' post-Godhra, he has consciously, diligently and painstakingly worked on an image of being with the youngsters. Which is why he undertakes initiatives such as Start Up India, Digital India and Skill India".

It is this 'development' agenda that has since been Modi's trump card. In fact, Gujarat was the factory in which Modi built this development model to flash across the world. And youngsters joined him in droves. The youth, who packed every public interaction or rally that Modi addressed, saw him as no less than a Rock star. He was always in tandem with their likes and dislikes. He took to social media like fish to water, and much before any other politician.

When Modi became prime minister and moved to Delhi in 2014, there was a vacuum in Gujarat's politics and in the BJP's connect with the youth began to sever. This vacuum was filled by Hardik Patel, a former social media manager for senior Patel community leader Lalji Patel. When the community leaders raised issues facing the Patels, urging the youth to come out in large numbers in support of its demands, it was Hardik Patel who established the direct connect and occupied the space that Modi had vacated. A commerce graduate, Hardik did not just speak the language of the youth, at 23, he was one of them. His tweets, facebook posts and whatsapp messages spread like wildfire and youth came out in large numbers at his call. So much so that he was able to mobilise almost a million people to gather in Ahmedabad for a rally that Modi would have envied.

If Hardik spoke for the Patel youth, he was followed by two other youngsters -- Alpesh Thakore, who became a leader of OBCs, and Jignesh Mevani, who spoke for Dalit youth.

With the doors of the traditional local media not open for them to propagate their message, these youngsters took to social media, just like Modi had. And they began to chip away at the BJP's hold over the state.

With assembly elections slated for the end of the year, a tongue-in-cheek Gujarati phrase encapsulating the post-Modi BJP government's failures in the state - be it the pathetic condition of roads in Ahmedabad, farmers' issues, or cow vigilante beating up Dalits -- has become the party's biggest challenge. 'Vikas gandothayochhe' (development has gone berserk!) began to go viral on twitter and whatsapp a couple of months ago and has put the BJP on the backfoot. The vociferous masters of messaging are still struggling to come up with an apt retort.

So much so that the Congress sees in it a chance to revive its fortunes in the state. When Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi came on a three-day tour of the politically sensitive Saurashtra region last week, he would merely ask, "What has happened to vikas in Gujarat?" and the crowd would roar, "Vikas gandothayoche!"

The BJP was hoping that its best-selling slogan -- development - and its biggest icon, PM Modi, would help it overcome a series of anti-establishment protests from Patels, Dalits and OBCs. But, "We have no answers," admitted a senior party functionary after holding a series of meetings and putting numerous heads together to come up with a retort. When the BJP announced that it was going to hold yet another 'Gaurav Yatra', the social media was agog with "Vikas has gone made, now BJP has brought in his brother Gaurav!" It's the first time in nearly two decades that the BJP finds itself tongue-tied. All that party president Amit Shah, who held a townhall with over 100,000 youth from across the state, could do was to request them "not to believe everything you see or read" on social media!

Still, it's no foregone conclusion as to which way Gujarat's youth will vote. That we will know only by the end of the year.