Many a government have been embarrassed by members’ statements in public, especially when they have differed with the official line on an issue or policy.
In the age of social-media-led ‘virality’—and its impact in shaping public opinion—loose tweets and Facebook posts from a minister could prove costly for the government, and ultimately, for governance. The Modi government has thus done well to revise the rules that govern ministers’ public appearances/statements and general conduct that has a bearing on the image of the government.
According to a report in The Economic Times, the new rules of ministerial conduct, modeled on the UK’s code, entail changes pertaining to travel, use of official bungalows and even the ministers’ digital presence—the revised code imposes the usual restriction on ministers from accepting sponsored junkets and using government-allotted residences for party work or organising events. What is new is that the minister’s are now also required to restrict themselves to their official IDs on social networks when commenting on matters of policy or governance.
The prime minister—with over 11.6 million Twitter followers for his professional and 20.6 million for personal account—had encouraged his ministers to become active on social media, and quite a few ministers/ministries have gained significant online following due to increased social activity. But, with ministers voicing differences with the official government line, the government has sometimes found itself in a spot.
With social media becoming a major source of news and updates—Facebook has over 125 million and Twitter has over 22 million accounts in India—the slightest dissent or a faux pas spreads in a blink. With the government trying to keep up with the changing times, the code of conduct need to be updated, too.