Jharkhand: Soren govt takes to social media for quick solutions

Abhishek Angad
Rabindra Nath Mahato elected as Jharkhand Assembly Speaker

Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren

A news report claimed that a child was sold for money in Jamshedpur. The deputy commissioner responded on social media, stating that the child had been recovered, posted pictures and said that the mother and child had been shifted to hospital. A video went viral showing a home guard extorting money from a coal cyclewallah in Dhanbad. The respective DC identified the homeguard, conducted an investigation and suspended him.

Hazaribagh residents were not receiving rations for a month. The DC conducted an inquiry and found the shop owner had violated the National Food Security Act. His licence was cancelled. A high-tension wire was out of place at Chandwara block of Koderma. The DC formed a team and assured action against those responsible, and ensured compensation to the injured.

A man with injured legs wasn’t treated at Kodarma’s Sadar Hospital. He was shifted to RIMS Ranchi and DC Ranchi gave a detailed account of the patient’s injuries and ensured that the civil surgeon monitored the case closely. In each of the above cases, local residents or ruling party workers flagged the problems on social media, tagging newly elected Chief Minister Hemant Soren. Soren responded by tagging the respective Deputy Commissioners, ensuring quick redressal of the issues. The previous government’s 181 helpline — with which people could register complaints and go through a process of grievance redressal — was opaque, said a source close to Soren.

“The new government is taking the first step to acknowledge that there are problems, and making it public. The next step is to ensure action. A tool that was used for propaganda is now being utilised for change and accountability, and making the public part of the process,” the source said.
The process of revamping the perception of governance started in December 2017. This was when two foreign university graduates — who had been in Jharkhand under the Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellowship programme — met Soren for a 20-minute conversation. The conversation went on for three-and-a-half hours and Soren was “impressed by their vision”.

Subsequently, the duo set up a team of 16 people — comprising graduates from universities such as Harvard, Sussex and Oxford, three of them tribals. Their job was to set up a robust party structure, use data to propagate Soren’s idea of governance and highlight the BJP’s ‘misgovernance’ on social media.

“This was done without creating a parallel system. A data-driven system was built by equipping party workers. They were rigorously trained in most of the 24 districts. Today, there are verified social media district handles that take up issues of governance, including bringing issues to the CM’s knowledge,” said one of the team members.

Starting their work in early 2018, the team trained JMM workers, decided on social media content for the party, and conducted surveys. JMM office-bearers in districts took to social media to counter the previous BJP government and steer the discourse after the party came to power. While in the opposition, Soren also took to Twitter and Facebook to react to reports and complaints.

One of the DCs who was tagged by Soren said: “Accountability has increased, and the government should think about how to institutionalise the whole process. Also, the accountability of stakeholders needs to be fixed. As of now, only those who have Twitter accounts are tagged.”

Sounding a note of caution, a government official said that “systemic problems” cannot be solved on social media. “Also, knee jerk reactions may do more harm than good. It is a wait and watch situation,” the official said, adding that the previous 181 system was a robust one that kept many deputy commissioners on their toes.

The JMM-led alliance rode to power in Jharkhand in the election last month, with their poll campaign mainly focusing on the BJP’s ‘misgovernance’ and Soren sticking to his ‘jal, jungle, zameen narrative’.