Fotoo please, Mr Fadnavis

Published: 19 November, 2015 07:22 IST | Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre |

Social-media savvy, the Maharashtra Chief Minister (CM) tweets, shares and likes his way into the second year of his term in office

Sumedha Raikar-MhatreThe popular catchphrase, ‘Pics, or it didn’t happen’ to photograph each ‘lived moment’ to be shared on the web, particularly if it is a brag-worthy accomplishment, has many subscribers. Maharashtra Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis, who moves into the second year of his official term, is a believer in the culture of online sharing.

His Twitter feed, Whatsapp messages and Facebook timeline are suffused with photos of achievements, micro and macro, political and personal, solo and group efforts. On an average day, Fadnavis has at least eight photos to share across platforms.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis at the Ambedkar Memorial in London on November 14. He was regular with pictures and updates on social media. PIC/PTI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis at the Ambedkar Memorial in London on November 14. He was regular with pictures and updates on social media. Pic/PTI

Impressive and diverse is the miscellany that emerges from Fadnavis’ photo bucket. A sampling can be educational: acceptance of a cheque from the Kantaben Rasiklal Shah Charitable Trust for drought-hit farmers, address at the state lawyers’ conference, launch of a website in memory of cartoonist R K Laxman, a puja at the Bengal Club Durga Utsav in Dadar, valedictory speech at the Minithon organised by a Nagpur school, the honour of being the first Indian to be awarded the doctorate by Japan's Osaka university. Every moment is memorialised and communicated to the larger world.

The photo-share climate puts a high cultural premium on broadcasting a range of interactions, leaving almost nothing in the private realm. His ‘Caring with Style’ fashion show becomes an opportunity to endorse the cause of cancer patients; a private engagement like the visit to his daughter’s school is a heavily re-tweeted photo highlight. If he visits his family deity in Mul village, it is a celebratory moment for the extended family and friends.

Pose politics
Each commemoration is an occasion for a photo. Fadnavis has been at his ingenious best in this ‘remembrance/recall’ department. He has posted salutations to the designer of the Indian National Flag (Pingali Venkayya) on his birth anniversary; he has wished happy ‘National Science Day’ to commemorate the discovery of the important property of light, the ‘Raman Effect’ by the great Indian physicist, Sir C V Raman; he has officially invited citizens’ involvement on Democracy day in Mantralaya. Ranging from the Gajanan Maharaj Prakat Din to Jain community’s Parna Mahotsav, he has factored in all the relatively lesser-known auspicious dates of all faiths.

Everyman Cameraman
Some of Fadnavis’ photos have generated a larger debate about his digital countryside, which rests on attention and visibility. For instance, his economy class air travel photo was labelled as a profile-raising strategy, and so was the snapshot of his visit and stay at a Yavatmal farmer’s house (as a means to understand the farmers’ plight). The timing of the photograph of his arrival in Osaka, (Japan) in which he was seen carrying his own luggage, was seen as an explicit projection of a hands-on, fuss-free, low-maintenance government official.

While the photographer’s omnipresence in all his engagements has been termed as excess PR, it has also invited positive interpretations of the pradhan sevak (chief servant) construct. Many perceive the camera-friendly CM as an open and positive contributor to the public discourse.

Vivek Ranade, his old-time associate from hometown Nagpur (and now his photographer for most official shoots), feels that Fadnavis’ readiness for a photograph indicates his keenness to go on record; his willingness to make everyone privy to his engagements. “Photographs shared online are a new-age reality. People crowd around celebrities for selfies, which further activates a mass-sharing of images, which is a global phenomenon,” said Ranade, who had once shot the CM as a model for a garments’ brand. Ranade says Fadnavis is merely following the demand of a hyper-connected tech-savvy time. “With the advent of smartphone photography, every person is a cameraperson. Naturally, everyone is going to share feel-good images.”

Tech for the sociable
Fadnavis’ friendly credentials align well with his online photo-share. He accepts all invites for public and family events, which includes musical evenings by amateur performers. As Nagpur-based Radio Jockey Rajan Alone recalls, “I have known him since I was part of the street theater wing of his ‘Separate Vidarbha’ grassroots agitation. He has a first-person connect with all small-time artistes and performers in his constituency (South-West Nagpur). Even after coming to power, he remains a phone-call away for event organisers, particularly the ghazal and sugam sangeet affair organisers, where his star presence facilitates sponsorship.”

Fadnavis’ ‘meet-one-meet-all’ stance has been received at various levels. Some perceive his socialising as ‘touch-and-go’ fleeting contacts, much on the lines of a short-lived 140-character tweet. Critics have labelled it people-pleasing, feel-good politics. But many approve of the CM’s policy to keep himself open to interactions. Nandita Tripathi, the visually-challenged assistant government pleader, who had met Fadnavis at a dandiya dance event in Nagpur, is one supportive voice. “It is nice to meet a CM who does not let the police bandobast or Z security come in the way of his interactions. His home and office are open places where people can meet him and talk to him.” The CM’s meetings follow no official time restrictions (often ending at 3 am) at both his residential bungalows, Ramgiri in Nagpur and Varsha in Mumbai. His official Facebook page also subscribes to a 24x7 alert status. The tagline says, ‘Our government works 24x7. A state whose 5 crore population is below 25 years of age, its CM cannot sleep!’ The CM has often reiterated pride in his extended hours; his mission not to rest until he gives employment to all the seekers.

Watch and weight...
The CM’s social media projection is also seen as a daring personal preference. As his close family friend Manjiri Jawdekar says, “Photos are images of the instant, immediate, raw and irrefutable. They can incur reactions, which they have done in the past. Some of his old family vacation photos have been misrepresented in a different social context.”

She recalls his photos of the RSS uniform (at the annual Dussehra parade in Nagpur) that proved detrimental to his image. Apart from highlighting his expanding waistline, the photos triggered banter over his dietary restrictions. “Whoever meets me these days, tell me, reduce the paunch,” Fadnavis himself joked about his weight at the ‘Agenda Maharashtra Summit’.

Jawdekar finds that a healthy response. She feels that the CM’s easy-going demeanour factors in the risks of a negative troll that some of his online images evoke.

The writer is a Mumbai-based cultural chronicler

Ask Devendra
The Fadnavis administration is often labelled as the ‘Twitter Sarkar’ in a lighter vein. The minute-to-minute photographic communiqué of key meetings and messages characterises Fadnavis’ style of governance. Is round-the-clock obtainability a good governance goal? Does it ensure results? Whether this is the way to go? We can ‘Ask Devendra’ on his mobile app! Easily downloadable! Sign Up, login and get connected!

Amruta Fadnavis: Hits and missus
Amruta Fadnavis

Q. Do you agree with Devendra Fadnavis’ people-driven politics? Is that your idea of effective electoral politics?
A. Yes, that is his passion. He likes to listen to people and find solutions, while he keeps an ear to the ground. He cannot avoid anyone. This style of governance takes up time, he wants it that way. Fortunately, age is on his side. He can invest all the time and energy he has to meet people.

Q. As a couple, you two were known to light up quite a few social dos, by singing some of your favourite Hindi film songs. Do you still continue with the duets?
A. Well, he hardly sang. He gave me company and echoed the song, mostly on family occasions. That takes a back seat now, as there is little time for leisure.

Q. Do you regret that?
A. Not at all. That part of our life is over and we have moved on with more responsibility. Responsibility can be empowering.

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