The Communist Party of India Marxist will now tell its members what they can like, write, follow or share on social media. Just to give you an idea, there are roughly one million party members in the country — the figure was 10,48,678 in 2015.
Discussions on social media within the CPM have so far been centred around how best to use its immense potential, especially to reach the young. It was also about convincing the older lot that taking to social media — posts, likes, shares on Facebook and Twitter — has nothing to do with losing touch with the grassroots and the poor. Over the last few years, a section of the senior party leadership has been struggling to convince the conservative and orthodox members that their party was missing out on a lot by not using social media like other political parties (and their leaders), such as the BJP, Congress and Trinamool Congress.
It is easy to see why there has been such a lot of noise within the party on the use of social media. And it is worth remembering how this same party had once resisted the use of computers, for fear that it would render many jobless.
Discussions on social media within the CPM have so far been centred around how best to use its immense potential, especially to reach the young
About 6.36% members of the CPM are less than 25 years old, 13.66% are between 26 and 31 years, 49.33% are between 32 to 50 years — and these groups are considered to be the most open about using social media. But the older lot still form a large section of the party and the resistance is said to be coming largely from them — 27.91% are between 51 and 70 years and another 2.74% are above 70 years.
In the CPM's 2015 plenum, it was mentioned that they were yet to fully appreciate the importance of the social media, and that some members resisted it. "Social media does not replace or substitute our mass work but adds to and multiplies our political and ideological message to the people," it was observed in the plenum report. Two workshops were organised by the party's central leadership to help party members understand the importance and reach of social media.
However, by the time the CPM had been able to convince some of its rigid members on using social media to its fullest advantage, the Ritabrata Banerjee episode surfaced, with the result that now the party leadership feels the need to prepare a set of guidelines for its members' conduct on social media.
In the CPM's 2015 plenum, it was mentioned that they were yet to fully appreciate the importance of the social media, and that some members resisted it.
There was a spat between Banerjee — a CPM Rajya Sabha MP — and another party member, Sumit Talukdar, over some photographs of the former posted on Facebook, where he was seen sporting an expensive watch and pen. In response, Banerjee wrote to Talukdar's employer threatening them that he would lodge a complaint on the matter.
While Banerjee denied to the party that the watch and the pen were expensive, he admitted his "reaction" should have been restrained. The party has publicly censured him for his conduct. CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury has also said that the party has began preparing its guidelines on social media posts.
Senior party leaders say that given the way the younger members enter into heated debates on open forums these days, there is now a need to exercise some caution and restraint. The basic idea is that members should be able to discuss party decisions (with the notion of propagating the party ideology, garnering support and picking up hints on criticism and reporting back to the party for rectification) but not debate publicly on issues that the CPM has yet to come to a conclusion on.
Senior party leaders say that given the way the younger members enter into heated debates on open forums these days, there is now a need to exercise some caution and restraint
CPM politburo member and MP Md Salim told HuffPost India that framing some guidelines should not be seen as a way of gagging the voices of party members. "The idea is not to 'control' what our members say. It will continue to be free and open. However, social media is a public place, and communists are expected to practise high moral values and political commitment. Therefore, their conduct on social media ought to go with this basic purpose," he said.
He added, "It is also an individualistic medium. Some political parties are using it for communal polarisation or ultra nationalism. But our party members should not fall prey to that. We must groom politically committed people to use the medium."
According to a senior party member, the CPM had long been telling its members to not go for pomp and show during election campaigns. "Other parties began to follow these only when the Election Commission started monitoring it strictly. There is nothing wrong if there are some dos and don'ts," he said. "Here, too, such dos and don'ts will apply."
Apart from the party members, the CPM has members from its mass fronts, such as trade unions, farmers' and agricultural workers' fronts, women's, youth and students' fronts. It is expected that the guidelines would be applicable to these fronts as well — especially to the youths and students' fronts, which make the most use of social media.
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