The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is known for its extensive use of social media for campaigning and garnering support. The party’s IT cell is known for its substantial contribution to the party’s campaign. They have a well-built network on all social media platforms including WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter.
In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of the first politicians to embrace social media platforms to reach out to the masses. In the initial years, the BJP used social media to post about their policies and schemes, which they promised to fulfil if elected to power in different states.
However, in recent times, they have been antithetical to the idea of people expressing opinions on social media platforms. Their approach to social media has completed changed ever since students, activists, comedians resorted to it to speak against the government. In short, they have a problem with free speech when it is against their party and politicians.
In February, when the ongoing farmers’ protest was at its peak, a 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi was arrested on grounds of sedition. Her only fault was she created a toolkit that contained information on why the farmers are protesting and the ground reality of the protest. This was then tweeted out by climate change activist Greta Thunberg and soon the entire world’s eyes were on India.
There was much contention as to why this toolkit is not in the country’s best interest. People again started engaging in the extended debate as to how social media is used for inciting violence and insurrection. However, then nobody knew that the same toolkit will be used for reaching out to people in crisis.
Covid toolkits on Twitter
Since April, India has been witnessing an unprecedented surge in Covid cases. It is facing a critical shortage of oxygen cylinders, hospital beds and certain medicines essential for Covid patients. In certain places such as Delhi, the mortality rate is so high that people are using makeshift crematoriums.
People are scrounging for beds and oxygen cylinders, and some even tag politicians in their tweets thinking they would send help. It is during these testing times that people of all age groups, especially the youth, are creating and sharing toolkits.
All of this is being done using social media platforms. Students are accumulating Covid-related information to facilitate those in need. People are going out of their way to deliver food free of cost, medicines and other essential items to those affected. Some of the most common toolkits being shared relentlessly include information on oxygen cylinders, hospital beds and medicines like remdesivir.
Doctors are taking to Instagram to share their plight and to spread awareness. Individuals are getting inspired by these toolkits and are reaching out to help as many as possible. The same toolkits, which were blamed for being seditious and anti-India, are working as a replacement to a failed healthcare system.
The amount of help people have received by accessing the information given through these toolkits is unprecedented. It is during these testing times that people of this country extended much-needed solidarity, which we thought had gone missing.
This situation has also opened up a new possibility, where social media can be used to benefit people in India despite being so polarised. The very idea that humanity is above all has been reflected. It also challenges the narrative of students and young people being gratuitous.
At the end of the day, it sheds light on the likelihood of having a future devoid of meaningless polarisation and one where more and more people will be questioning the government.
Natasa Aziz is a student of Department of Law, University of Calcutta, Kolkata