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The wired politics: Shrinking Internet public in India
Is the Internet democratizing Indian politics? Do political websites and blogs marshal immobile citizens and craft the public sphere in a more inclusive way? If the Internet widens public space in India - contrary to trendy beliefs, the Internet has done little to ensure mature political dialogue but in fact has empowered a small set of elites and some new familiar faces.

THE INTERNET is reinforcing privileged voices in politics rather than opening the process to more diverse voices. We live in a "Googlearchy" ruled by search engines that contemplate attention on just a handful of "winner-take-all" sites. The idea that the internet is empowering more ordinary people to be dynamic participants in the process is by and large a fable.


Politics is a pretty low-level concern of Indian Web users. Successful political bloggers tend to be highly educated and upper middle-class; and the biggest sites, whether Google, Yahoo, or the online version of offline traditional media entities are highly structured and concentrated on key groups.

The social media presence of big players is a testimony that big players who are already penetrated in democratic space before the coming of the Internet, and have assumed to be self-assumed guardians with high concern of political and democratic engagement. Most of such big websites are parochial and tend to spread their ideology and stereotypes. Traffic to such websites and online portals is high compared to majority of individual profiles in blogs, websites and other interactive platforms. In this respect, Internet in Indian Politics is not as open as they are some where else in American democracy or such other digital democracies.

It is disputed that, though plenty Indians blog about politics, such blogs receive only a miniscule portion of Web traffic, and most blog readership goes to a handful of mainstream, highly-educated professionals. Despite the wealth of independent websites, online news audiences are concentrated. Links are structured, how citizens search for political content, and how leading search engines such as Google and Yahoo funnel traffic to popular outlets. While the Internet has increased, some forms of political participation have transformed the way interest groups and political candidates organize, mobilize, and raise funds, but elites still strongly shape how political material on the Web is presented and accessed.

The netizen using online platforms are largely educated professionals but traffic to such bogs and websites are comparatively poor. At the same time such blogs and web portals which having heavy traffic are owned by the one who are already big players before the coming in of Internet in India. The news papers and TV media has already institutionalised and commercialised the online space with high penetration among key groups and new players and individual netizens are mere digital islands.

A qualitative perception of who uses and who comments on online content on the Internet makes it credible. A commentary on corruption titled “Is Corruption an Issue in Indian Politics”? in a blog on October 16, 2012 by an independent blogger has received just three comments, two of which are anonymous, and the blog has been shared by the author himself on the personal Facebook page where no one has put a “Like ” or “Share” so far as on 12-11-2012.

In contrast, webpage available at www.http://acorn.nationalinterest.in posted a commentary on corruption titled “Why Anna Hazare is wrong and Lok Pal a bad idea” posted on 14 August 2011 received ‘740 Tweet’, ‘169 recommend in Google +’, ‘58 share in Linkedin’, ‘13K Facebook Like’ (Pai,14 August 2011).

The pullout in The Times of India’s online edition, ‘Anna Hazare’s movement is anti-social justice, manuwadi’ has received Google + 11-Recommend, 2.8 K “Likes”109 –tweet and 1340 Comments as 18-12012. The Facebook community ‘India Against Corruption’ as on 03-09-2011 received 509,649 'likes'. On the issue, the community has posted 2007 topics. 5th Pillar Corruption Killer, which received 2,527 “Like” mark  as on 03-09-2011 and 10 notes are posted on the community on the topic. The Facebook community Anna Hazare has 372,906 “Likes' as on 03-09- 2011.

It is evident that the online space is marked by higher focus of commercial interest and big players are monopolies of the internet space and the sites of such players have greater traffic.

The debate surrounding democratizing of Indian democracy in Indian political scenario, nowaday, occupies a theme about political engagement through social media platform. From press to academia, the concern is more about how digital we are? Which politicians are most active as online campaigners? Which political entity has more “Likes” on Facebook? Who benefits the maximum from social media enabled political engagement? Unfortunately, most discussion is about number of politicians and online users? Who is engaging voters through websites, whose Twitter account is fake?

It is ridiculous and disgusting to learn that we are unnecessarily pre-occupied with a digital mania and almost all of our political engagement has been just an imitation of what American elections are facing and what American politicians are doing in electoral democracy.

No one is concerned about the complex problem of who and why is digital? Who networks? What messages are communicated? What effect did it bring about in the actual politics? If all online engagements are actually transformed to electoral result? Is social media use a necessity for a cultural landscape like that in India? Is social media a techno-sociality and techno-centrism of an unwanted kind? The questions are plenty but facts are mystifying.

A powerful trend is clearly underway in the direction of greater similarity in the way the public sphere is structured across the world. In the process, the political class across the world is becoming increasingly alike. Political systems are becoming ever more similar in the patterns of communication they incorporate, especially social media. India too is infected in this phenomenal process of homogenizing global political sphere.

The trend towards global homogenization of media systems, the public sphere, and political communication apparently has morphed into reinforce an American eco-system for politics and political engagement via digital supremacy on social media platforms and other forms of exposure to western technology and social norms. The political class and their political entities and political communications actively pursued on social networking sites in India on the guise that people can be easily contacted by a click are nothing more than an attempt to hide the pitfalls and ills of political class itself.

Technologies we have imported are technologies having ethnocentric values. The most of social media platforms are American and such platforms represent the social values of American society. If implemented in other societies are perhaps a mismatch to our ethos and social norms we have cherished.

The political class knocking at every door for face to face interaction is vital pillar of democracy. Political tribe requesting us via social media for our votes and support is actually not a norm we have cherished from national movement and freedom struggle. Exploring into the categories and variables which configure Americanization of political communication in India is need of the hour. It drags our attention to assume that social media are American value. Globalization has just teleported this technology to India and on the way has infected us like a transmittable disease and spilled over in to the artilleries of our politics and society. Let us learn a bit from Chinese model of digital sociality.

Internet appears as a shrinking public space. Obviously, the Internet space in India is highly monopolized by big players who are already dominant before the coming in of Internet. The space is highly commercialized and run with market interest. The so-called free space in Internet probably is a myth and a fairy tale. It does not exist as we imagined it could be. Wired politics is nothing more than a shrinking public space to commerce and monopolies. It exists between ‘digital islands’ and ‘digital empires’. An empire of monopolies and island of digital natives.

(Contributed by Biju. P. R. and Gayathri O. About the Contributors: Biju. P. R. is Assistant Professor and HoD, Department of Political Science, Government Brennen College, Kerala. Gayathri O. is Assistant Professor/PDF Scholar, Department of Political Science, Kerala University.)


Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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