The New Narendra Modi App Is Propaganda For The Digital Age
Aside from staunch fans of Narendra Modi, North Korean premier Kim Jong Un is among the few people who might be uncritically impressed with our prime minister’s new app. For the Narendra Modi Mobile App (NMMA), which was launched in June, is old-fashioned propaganda modernised for the digital era. Like his entire electoral campaign, this app too nurtures the Modi personality cult. One hagiographic press release in the app’s news feed, which dates back to the time he was the chief minister of Gujarat, even claims he has the potential to be India’s Vladimir Putin, a man not known for democratic ideals.
WHAT THE APP TELLS YOU
Among the features of the app, which is available for free on Google Play for Android phones, is a news feed with updates on Modi’s activities. For instance, just yesterday, Wednesday, July 8, Modi was in Kazakhastan gifting President Nursultan Nazarbayev an English translation of the Guru Granth Sahib among other religious books. Before that he was in neighbouring Uzbekistan, where he gave President Islam Karimov a reproduction of Sufi poet Amir Khusrau’s Khamsa-i-Khusrau. The posts go back to 2008, so you can read about descriptions of Modi’s achievements as the chief minister of Gujarat.
With the app, you can send messages to the PM, listen to episodes of his Mann Ki Baat radio show, read transcripts of his speeches and interviews to the press, and scroll through his official Facebook posts and Twitter updates. You can also see infographics marking his effect on things like foreign direct investment, inflation, green energy and coal production (of course, there’s no mention of how the increase in the last of these was achieved at the cost of the environment). The graphs are superimposed on pictures of Modi suggesting he’s solely responsible for throwing the country’s ostensible progress into high gear.
HOW IT WORKS
Users have to sign in through Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus or their Narendramodi.in account. A brief registration form has to be filled. I noticed that the ‘profession’ field had no option for journalism or media, so I had to pick ‘communications’. I briefly wondered whether the omission had anything to do with the Prime Minister’s famous reticence when it comes to talking to the press.
DESIGN AND USABILITY
In its review of the app, the BBC says its “like Tinder for good governance” because of all the swiping involved. You swipe right to see older posts, swipe up to read instructions and so on. This feature seems quite advanced for an app made by the government, whose digital offerings are rarely high on good quality design and functionality. The NMMA is indeed neatly designed and relatively easy to navigate.
THE INTERACTIVE FEATURES
The most ludicrous – and insidious – feature is the ‘To-do Tasks’ section. These tasks involve answering a multiple choice question on the government initiative that “has had the most transformative effect” (the choices are Make in India, Jan Dhan Yojana, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana); commenting on an episode of Mann Ki Baat; ‘liking’ a post (such as the one about the PM’s visit to Kazakhastan); or sharing a video (like the clip of his address a Kazakh university). Each completed task earns the user points, which correspond to ‘badges’. For instance, I chose Swachh Bharat Abhiyan as the most transformative initiative (even though it’s too early for the policy to show serious results) and commented on the Mann ki Baat episode in which Modi mentions his appeal to people to post pictures of their travels in India with the hashtag ‘Incredible India’. (My comment was “Whatever”, but that didn’t stop me earning points.)
With 131 points, I earned ‘The Do-er’ badge. I’m already just three badges away from the highest honour, the ‘Super Fan’ badge. The app explains that “every badge you acquire comes with recognition and more responsibility; earn them all and establish yourself as a true change-maker”. The feature is oddly childish for an app for the leader of a country. And it gives people the false impression that they are performing a gainful activity. It’s also insidious because it encourages users to publicly endorse the Prime Minister by exciting their competitive instinct. However, I just couldn’t bring myself to ‘like’ and share the posts with my Facebook friends. So I’ll have to be content with being only half a change-maker.