How the mighty use IT

The Lok Sabha polls may be a good month away but a recent report by a social media analytics website reveals who’s leading the battle in the virtual world

Souzeina S Mushtaq Delhi 

In the Delhi Assembly elections last year, when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 31 seats, it was the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that stole the show. The party debuted with 28 seats, toppling three-time Chief Minister Sheila Dikhsit from her New Delhi constituency. 

As the BJP decided to sit in the Opposition, lacking simple majority, the AAP had a chance to form the government with outside support. It decided to turn to the common man, again, as a way out of the “dharma-sankat” (moral dilemma), and seek answers from them. 

Within four hours, over 3 lakh responses were recorded across the web, IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and SMS; people were eager to participate in the decision-making. The result being that the AAP formed the government, with Arvind Kejriwal as Chief Minister. 

It’s now fairly known that social media has been playing an important role in the Indian political arena. Before the Assembly elections, a social media campaign by the Election Commission of India drew record levels of voter registration and turnout in the elections in November and December 2013. 

For the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the political parties have geared to attract the tech-savvy crowd into the fold. According to a study by the IRIS Knowledge Foundation and the Internet and Mobile Association of India, social media could influence the electoral outcome in as many as 160 out of 543 constituencies represented in the Lok Sabha. These constituencies are mostly located in urban pockets where the Internet is widely used. Around 81.4 crore eligible voters are expected to exercise their franchise in the longest elections India has ever seen.

Among the major parties, the BJP has the biggest presence on the social media platform. With its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi having over 3 million followers on Twitter, the BJP says it understands the importance of the medium. According to newspaper reports, the party recently hired a team of 400 coordinators and over a thousand volunteers to spread its message on the web. 

The BJP was among the first political parties to launch a website in 1998, much before the 2009 general elections, which it lost to the Congress. “Technology has been in the BJP's DNA. We have always used it very effectively, whether to give information to supporters or to make information available faster,” Arvind Gupta, national convener of the BJP's IT was quoted saying. 

Even the grand old party Congress, whose chances of winning the next elections seem bleak, has evolved to embrace online media. The party has over two million likes on its Facebook page, and around 137,000 followers on Twitter. The party has conducted 40 workshops so far on the social media. 

Newcomer AAP also is notching up their presence on social media, with more than 1.6 million likes on Facebook and over 551,000 followers on Twitter. Kejriwal has over 1.8 million followers on Twitter. 

According to reports, even though the Internet penetration in India continues to remain low, it is estimated that of a population of 1.2 billion plus, around 160 million people in India are active users of online services and various social media and email platforms.