Diplomacy Live – “Modi’s Foreign Policy”, Season 1 Episode: Mongolia

Posted on May 19, 2015

By Zoya Sham:

Social media has done to diplomacy what reality TV did to news and entertainment in the 90’s – revolutionized and sensationalized it.

In the past, foreign trips of Prime Ministers had a conventional format in news packaging. There would be a big ‘official handshake’ picture with the flags of the two countries in the background. The headline would read, “PM visits so-and-so country“, followed by a brief summary of the entire trip with key policy changes. But like we’ve seen in the last few months, Narendra Modi doesn’t do things the conventional way. So, instead, we get real time tweets for every significant step the PM takes on foreign soil.

During his recent trip to Mongolia, PM Narendra Modi and MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup updated followers live with pictures and videos from the trip. Starting with “Hello from Mongolia” to the Gandan Monastery, Naadam Festival, National Cancer Centre and Art of Living programme. We saw the PM playing Mongolian instruments, trying his hand at archery and exchanging gifts with Mongolian PM Saikhanbileg and President Elbegdorj.

Amongst these tweets were also updates on diplomatic policy deals. The PM tweeted a video of his speech at the Mongolian Parliament, laying the foundation stone for the Atal Bihari Vajpayee IT Centre and a picture of the list of agreements signed between the countries.

This hourly reality TV-style diplomacy has blurred the line between politician and celebrity regarding the PM’s image. People follow him to know what he’s doing and therefore, they are exposed to international diplomacy without particularly seeking it out. Even those who don’t read or watch the news can see international affairs unfolding before them on their smartphones. This encourages awareness and provokes discourse in an audience which was previously uninvolved.

Additionally, live diplomacy has also made Narendra Modi a people’s representative in more ways than one. The PM’s virtual travelogue offers the opportunity to understand new places and cultures through his experiences, places that everyone may not have visited. It thus has the potential to expand the average Indian’s worldview. For example, how many of us knew about the Naadam festival until the tweets brought it to our notice?

Hard news stories on foreign diplomatic trips provide cut and dry facts. The front page of any newspaper will give you those, so it’s trivial for the PM to merely reiterate them on twitter. Instead, he and his team add a human-interest perspective to it, which puts policies in favourable context. ‘Diplomatic Selfies’ with foreign ministers makes it more relatable. $1-billion credit line for infrastructure development and ‘strategic partnership’ to increase influence in the Asia-Pacific region mean little to a layman if he knows nothing of our joint heritage and cultural influences with Mongolia.

Modi’s reliance on social media to disseminate information to the public may be considered a distraction from serious politics by sensationalizing. However, it is this type of elitist view that can potentially keep masses isolated from political discourse. Live diplomacy reaches more people instantly to provide better understanding. Isn’t this a good next step for a developing democracy?

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