Centre for Internet & Society

Why online (and offline) activism after 26/11 never took off; what should have been done to mobilize people - an article in the Livemint by Seema Chowdhry and Samanth Subramanian - 20th November, 2009

On “One Million Strong for Bombay” (23,601 members), a 9 October post concerned the activist Hansel D’Souza, chairman of the Juhu Citizens’ Welfare Group, the Citizens’ Consensus candidate for the Andheri (West) assembly constituency; an earlier post involved the schedule of the Jazz Yatra. On “The Black Badge for Bombay” (853 members), the last post, from 31 August, wonders if Pakistan is a pawn being used by China against India.

“The idea behind ‘Black Badge for Bombay’ initially was to keep the pressure on so that the reaction to the attacks in terms of government preparedness results in concrete action,” says Somasekhar Sundaresan, the group’s creator. “The government has now set up a combat force in Mumbai, which was the stated immediate objective of this movement and
pressure group. After that, we needed to move on.”

Sundaresan admits that the posts have not been updated more frequently because he hasn’t worked hard enough to get people interested in newer issues. “Most of my discussions about civil rights movements are restricted to five or six friends who are members of this Facebook group too,” he says. “It is easier to talk to them because I meet them
professionally and personally often.” “The Black Badge for Mumbai” has also been unable to organize offline meetings.

What these groups lacked, according to Sunil Abraham, executive director of the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, was a dedicated team to keep the momentum going. “They don’t have intelligently incremental action points that keep their audiences increasingly engaged,” he says in an email interview. “The creators often underestimate the importance of offline activities that will keep their audiences motivated. Finally, many of them take their membership for
granted and don’t bother sending regular updates or even an occasional thank you.”

It was perhaps the need to sustain momentum that drove some of the offline citizens’ groups into the political sphere. Anil Bahl allied his Let’s Rebuild India with the Professionals Party of India. A group called Jago Mumbai turned into the Jago Party, which fielded a candidate in the Lok Sabha election from north-west Mumbai. (He lost.) “We decided that we couldn’t do anything alone,” says Bhuresh Barot, a working member of the Jago Party. “You need to be in power to do anything.”

As his party’s south Mumbai coordinator, Barot witnessed a rapid dissolution of voter outrage back into voter apathy; in the Lok Sabha election, the turnout stood at 43.3%. “The main reason seemed to be that voters thought they already knew the ideology of every party,” Barot theorizes. “And they decided they simply didn’t have faith in the candidates.”

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