Today I saw a conversation between some Nepalese guys on my Facebook. One was complaining that aid wasn’t getting to the earthquake-hit areas fast enough, another said that it was because of India’s control over Kathmandu airport, and the third – this is the interesting part – replied with ‘let’s tweet Narendra Modi about this’.
I think this is fascinating, because it’s symptomatic of a new way of relating to power that’s come to the fore in Asia over recent years. And it’s related to (yes, you know I’m going to say it) the personality politics thing. In the same way that it’s ok to call up and ask Vladimir Putin to persuade your friend’s husband to buy her a dog, or that if you want to get shit done in Saudi Arabia you’re expected to go and hang out in the relevant Royal’s majlis, you can tweet Narendra Modi in the hope that he (or, more likely, his staff) will pick up on your personal issue.
In Europe or America you don’t tweet your leaders in the hope that they will pay attention to your requests. You tweet at them because you want other people to know that you’re mad as hell and you’re not going to take it any more.
Which is not to say that European and US politicians are immune from the phenomenon. In a rather endearing episode last year, David Cameron organised a Weibo chat with Chinese citizens, and it turned out that a large proportion of the questions were not about trade or foreign policy, but requests that he ensure the rapid retransmission of the new series of Sherlock on Chinese tv.