#AltSarkar: Can an Online Alternative Do What Modi Govt Won’t?
‘India’s first roleplay government’ is how they describe themselves – so what is this government-in-parallel doing?
Video Editor: Vivek Gupta
#AltSarkar has crowned itself the (tongue-in-cheek) government-in-parallel, and its aim is to publicly engage with national issues in a way that stands in contrast to how they say national governance is currently being done. It began with a light-hearted Twitter poll:
The group exists exclusively on Twitter, but the question on its followers lips is: What next? Does it go beyond?
The initiative that started off as a joke gained traction in no small part due to the big (online) names with significant followings it has recruited. Here are some prominent ones:
- Ashok Swain: 1,17,200 followers
- Preeti Sharma Menon: 86,700 followers
- Sonali Ranade: 63,700 followers (no longer associated)
- Meghnad: 52,900 followers
- Vidyut: 43,200 followers
- James Wilson: 36,400 followers
- SamSays: 29,100 followers
That's a following of 4,29,200 between these seven handles, with a few thousand more among the rest of the 20-odd members.
With all the state’s respected institutions bending to the will of a domineering administration – mainstream media engaging in fawning coverage of the ruling party; institutions like the Reserve Bank, the Judiciary, and the Election Commission all looking the other way from government excesses; individuals being arrested for speaking unfavourably against the BJP – social media is a space where dissent can still be voiced loudly. Though, that’s not for lack of trying on the ruling party's part. Remember Prashant Kanojia?
And so perhaps it's no surprise that so many of the #AltCabinet prefer to remain anonymous.
“They are obviously worried about becoming public faces who can be targeted by the troll army and the bhakts offline. These days, public recognition has become more of a bane than a boon.”@Godavar, #AltElectronics&ITMinister
“A few people had to make fake handles because their real-life jobs would not be okay with this kind of thing. For example, say a journalist, employed with a media house, they’d get into trouble in their jobs if they participated using their real identity.”Vidyut, #AltPrimeMinister
#AltSarkar is, as their official description says, India's 'first roleplay government'. So what do they aim to do?
“What we are trying to do today, even through satire and spoof, is actually put forward sound policies, sound suggestions of what can be considered when you think of governance.”@Godavar, #AltElectronics&ITMinister
Importantly, the focus is not on the government – neither on its actions, nor on its policies – but on issues of national significance.
“We are not going after the government, not even criticising its policies. We are not Congress, we’re not Kejriwal, we’re not Mamata, so I think trolls don’t know how to deal with us.”@Vidyut, #AltPrimeMinister
In the view of @ScrewedByState (who has ended his association with the group since speaking to us), #AltSarkar was to be a kind of paradigm-shifting attempt rather than an opposition movement.
“This is not a real government, one can afford to be refreshingly, stimulatingly different. To swing the zeitgeist from the draconian to the liberal.”@ScrewedByState
What Does #AltSarkar Talk About?
This mock government engages with various national issues of the day – Article 370's abrogation in Jammu & Kashmir, economic slowdown, and climate change. But the stated aim is also to shake off spectacle, PR imperatives and spin, to paint a picture of an alternative way to govern.
To that end, members have come out with some unconventional yet thoughtful policy suggestions, and opened them up to public discussion on Twitter. Here are two recent examples:
#AltPM began a policy thread announcing a Department of Sexual Affairs, with the hashtag #DoSex (there's the tongue-in-cheekness), advocating for the regulation and normalisation of sex work as a legitimate profession.
The #AltEnvironmentMinister came out with a policy to address deforestation (like the felling of trees in Mumbai's Aarey Colony), suggesting heavy monetary compensation for each felled tree, and new guidelines for making decisions on where to fell, like stakeholder meetings that must involve students and be at least half women.
Where to From Here?
Although it started with a bang, #AltSarkar is in danger of fizzling out, as the members themselves recognise. "We don't know how long this will last," is something most of the ones The Quint spoke to said.
The fact that their official ‘AltSarkar’ accounts, created for the various ministries, have not attracted much of a following speaks to the somewhat disparate, loose nature of the group, highly dependent at this stage on the big names they've recruited to publicise their ideas.
So, rather than a coherent 'opposition' movement as many of its followers had hoped for, #AltSarkar is more like a way for this collection of Twitter accounts to get substantive policy ideas out there, in a new format of dissent.
But is this all there is to it? Well, maybe not. Meghnad, the #AltParliamentaryAffairsMinister, has plans to take his ideas, at least, offline.
“I want to form a committee of journalists, policy-makers, lawyers, comedians, etc, to educate people about government and law in a fun way... in very simple ways. So, I genuinely feel like there is something like this that I can actually do. I mean, it won’t be like an actual committee, right? So, I can talk to a few people and say, ‘Hey guys, you know, come to one place in Delhi, maybe we can think about this at least and see what comes out.’”@Meghnad, #AltParliamentaryAffairsMinister
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