In the past few weeks, my Facebook feed has been flooded with news articles praising various cabinet ministers, who responded timely to citizens’ concerns on Twitter.
A woman passenger being harassed on train received support when she tweeted for help. Due to the Chennai floods, the deadline for submitting TDS was extended after a Chartered Accountant tweeted to Minister for Trade and Commerce Nirmala Sitharaman. A girl student suffering from spinal muscular atrophy is able to sit for her exam after her father tweeted to HRD Minister Smriti Irani for help.
These are just a handful of examples. There are many more.
Clearly, this is exciting and commendable on part of our ministers, who take the pains of responding to individual citizens and helping them. Ever since the BJP government took charge, social media has emerged as a messiah for citizens to solve their problems.
In this context, there are few important questions:
Is Twitter governance sustainable and replicable? Is this the way forward? Should we be happy and satisfied with this form of governance?
Though Twitter governance has worked quite well and ministers definitely deserve their due credit, but ideally, this should not be the main form of governance. Pertaining to the examples above, let us consider a few unanswered questions:
What were the local officials doing? Why wasn’t there any police personnel in the train? Why couldn’t exam officials intervene and allow the girl to sit for the exam? Should every citizen have to write to the topmost authority to get his/her problem solved?
It is no secret that when local officials entrusted with responsibilities fail to perform their duties, we resort to higher officials or stage a protest. For instance, a couple of months back, a young girl was allegedly molested by a senior person in a Durga Puja pandal near my place. At first, the police refused to register an FIR and threatened the parents of dire consequences. It was only when a local NGO intervened at midnight; the police was forced to register the complaint.
Therefore, while Twitter governance should definitely be applauded, it must not be forgotten that leveraging Twitter for help is something only a privileged section of the society can afford to do. One needs to have a smartphone, a good internet connection and knowledge of Twitter before one can leverage it to seek for help.
For millions of economically disadvantaged citizens, struggling for their rights is a daily ordeal. Last week, my mother was admitted briefly for a minor treatment at Max Healthcare hospital in Delhi. Before leaving, when I was paying the bill, I saw an old lady, who was holding a few documents in her hand and requesting the cashier girl to consider her case for help under the EWS category. Despite her repeated pleas, the cashier was extremely rude to her.
Public Distribution Shops. Regional Transport Offices. Collector Offices. District Magistrate Offices. Police stations. Government hospitals. Public health centres. Municipal schools
A random visit to any of these places would give you a picture of the ailing public systems and the urgent need to reform them.
According to the Right to Education Act, a school cannot refuse admission to any child and can admit him/her at any time in the academic year. However, parents are made to beg and plead for weeks and months, till admission is granted. Lack of documents, no availability of seats, this is not the correct time of the year to get admission are some of the most common excuses given.
Leave aside Twitter, even government employees, who are entitled to several benefits (For example: Pensions, claiming Leave Travel Concessions, etc) by the government have to pay bribes and suffer endless humiliation at the hands of other government officials.
Therefore, with all due credit to ministers, I find little cause for celebration in Twitter governance, when the basic expectations from government employees and officials aren’t met.
Twitter governance should be an exception, not the norm.