NEW DELHI – India’s most popular social media presence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, created a flutter when he announced he was giving up his social media accounts, only to say a day later that he was handing over the mic to women to share inspiring stories for International Women’s Day.
Mr Modi, among the world’s most followed leaders on social media platforms, set off shock waves after he announced that he would be going off social media on Sunday (March 8).
“This Sunday, thinking of giving up my social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & YouTube. Will keep you all posted,” PM Modi tweeted on Monday (March 2). The tweet had more than 17.8 million likes by late afternoon on Tuesday.
The announcement captured social media users and was debated at length on television channels, with many speculating over the surprise announcement.
Some dismissed it as a gimmick for International Women’s Day, others speculated that if Mr Modi, a nationalist leader who has launched programmes like Make in India to push Indian manufacturing, would debut on some new Indian social media site.
Even his own Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members appeared taken aback.
“Hon’ble PM Sir, I do have faith that a lot of thought would have gone into this action, will await for your action post declaration,” tweeted BJP MP and lawyer Meenakshi Lekhi.
The reaction was strongest among his supporters, who trended everything from #NoSir to #IWillAlsoLeaveTwitter and #NoModiNoTwitter on Twitter.
Ms Vanita Jain tweeted that she was going off the social media platform if Mr Modi left.
“Joined #Twitter because of my PM @narendramodi. I will leave #Twitter if my #PMModi will decide to leave,” she tweeted.
Some 24 hours after his Twitter announcement, Mr Modi cleared the air, revealing that it was to be a one-day hiatus for International Women’s Day.
“This Women’s Day, I will give away my social media accounts to women whose life & work inspire us. This will help them ignite motivation in millions. Are you such a woman or do you know such inspiring women? Share such stories using #SheInspiresUs,” he tweeted, announcing that women would be chosen to tweet from his handles.
Mr Modi, India’s most popular leader, returned to power last May for a second term. The Indian Prime Minister gives rare interviews and stays away from press interactions, instead, using social media platforms to reach out directly to people.
In 2019, US-based marketing analytics firm SEMrush in a study noted that Mr Modi was the second-most followed leader on social media, after Mr Barack Obama, with 111 million followers on various social media platforms.
On Twitter, Mr Modihas 53.3 million followers and is following 2,372 people. And on Instagram, he has 35.2 million followers.
US President Donald Trump has 73.3 million followers on Twitter.
Mr Modi’s announcement on Monday opened up some opportunities for black humour from the opposition.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, amid political controversy on hate speeches by some BJP leaders, tweeted: “Give up hatred, not social media accounts.”
The remarks come against the backdrop of controversy created by some BJP leaders who have been accused of making hate speeches and fuelling communal tensions in north-east Delhi, which resulted in 46 deaths.
The PM’s abrupt announcement had led many to worry if it were a prelude to banning these services throughout the country too.
Some remained critical of the media focus centred on the Prime Minister’s announcement at a time when the country is seeing multiple challenges from communal tensions and riots, a floundering economy and the coronavirus threat.
Two new coronavirus cases were detected in India on Tuesday.
“At a time when we should be debating how to repair fractured social relations, how prepared we are to deal with coronavirus, how to revive the economy, we are now speculating why PM Modi may quit social media. Yeh hai (This is) ‘new’ politics, ‘new’ India, ‘new’ media,” tweeted senior television journalist Rajdeep Sardesai.