When Narendra Modi sneezes, Indians do not catch a cold. They take to Twitter. Seldom has any Indian political leader polarised public opinion to such an extent, even on social media, like our prime minister. His penchant for courting controversies has often led to the little (140 characters, to be precise) blue bird coming home to roost.
He did it again last week during the trip to the US, when he signed a tricolour to be presented to the American President Barack Obama by Vikas Khanna. The celebrity chef had prepared the menu for Modi’s dinner with Fortune 500 CEOs. Modi, the Union government says, had signed a ‘painting’, which resembled the tricolour, done by a differently-abled child.
Point 2.1(vi) of Section I, Part II of the Flag Code of India, 2002, does state that “Lettering of any kind shall not be put upon the Flag”. Explanation 2 under the same section further clarifies “The expression ‘Indian National Flag’ includes any picture, painting, drawing or photograph, or other visible representation of the Indian National Flag, or of any part or parts thereof, made of any substance or represented on any substance.” The government painted itself into a corner, eh?
If it thought the twitterati would gulp the explanation down with Khanna’s Kashmiri Kahwa, it couldn’t have been more wrong. Twitter erupted with #ModiDisrespectsTricolour and #ModiInsultsTricolour, with the former reaching 2,23,817 accounts between September 25 and 27, and managing 3,02,886 impressions. That the opposition didn’t go ballistic with the controversy would have played a hand in the relatively low numbers. Congress leader Manish Tewari, however, did drop this tweet:
Modi had been accused of the same offence during the International Yoga Day, when he was caught on camera wiping his sweat with a dupatta in tricolours draped around his neck.
By the end of the week, however, from being flagged down, Modi, being Modi, had become the flagbearer of Digital India on the American soil. His meeting with the who’s who of the tech world, including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, at San Jose, had the twitterati going gaga over the prime minister. Soon, the earlier hashtags were drowned in the deluge of #ModiinSiliconValley, which reached 1,18,79,441 accounts and garnered 1,30,43,723 impressions in one day itself. That about 35 per cent of the tweets were original posts and not just retweets is proof of how closely the world is following Modi’s moves in the US.
The meeting ended on an encouraging note, with Google promising to help bring WiFi to 500 railway stations across India "in a short time", Microsoft putting its hand up to help the government provide low-cost broadband to five lakh Indian villages and Qualcomm agreeing to give a fund of Rs 10 billion for startups in India.
It didn’t end there. Modi attended a Q&A session with Mark Zuckerberg at the Facebook Townhall event in Menlo Park, California, followed by a visit to Google headquarters. Talk of social networking! Like one Twitter user rightly pointed out: It is ironic that Modi is visiting Facebook and Google, but Twitter is making the most out of it.