Hours after election campaigning for the first phase of the Gujarat polls ended on Wednesday, chief minister Narendra Modi and Congress state boss Arjun Modhwadia were both still reaching out to voters.
“People of Gujarat have been prevented from raising their voices: Rahul Gandhi,” tweeted Modhwadia, president of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee at about 1:30 pm on Wednesday.
Less than half an hour later, Modi hit back. “Gujarat election is the first time that Congress is using models in its ads instead of the Family Album!” the BJP leader tweeted at about 2 pm on Wednesday, referring to the Gandhi family that heads the Congress. “Seems they’ve lost trust in their leaders.”
Till a few years back, they would have had to restrict their campaigns to constituencies not going to polls on Thursday. But thanks to a vague election law not updated to capture the latest trends, both the BJP and the Congress are continuing the most potent social media campaigns seen in Indian politics even after traditional campaigning ended.
Section 126 of the Representation of People’s Act bars public meetings, processions, and the display of cinematographic, television or other “similar apparatus” to the voting public 48 hours before the end of polling. But the law – under which traditional campaigning ended at 5 pm on Tuesday, for the 87 constituencies voting on Thursday – is silent about social media tools that both the BJP and the Congress have used extensively.
“My reading of the law is that it bars electronic campaigning,” Surinder Kumar Mendiratta, election law expert and consultant-cum-legal adviser to the Election Commission of India told HT. “But whether that covers social media is up to interpretation.”
Both the BJP and the Congress appear to have interpreted the law as allowing them the leeway to use social media.
The Gujarat BJP used both its Twitter handle and Facebook account to publicize cricketer Irfan Pathan’s campaign stop alongside Modi, a symbolic victory for the CM because of the anti-minority image he often finds himself up against. Modi’s website also posted updates of his day’s rallies.
Though the Congress, India’s oldest existing political party has no twitter account nationally, its state unit has an active handle that through the day targeted Modi and his government.
“Political trivia: If BJP takes 2.5 years to build just 1136 houses for the needy, how much time will they take to build 50 lakh homes?” a Gujarat Congress tweet at about 1 pm asked, referring to allegations that the state government’s promise to build 5 million homes had largely remained just that – a promise.
Modhwadia tweeted in the morning about how he was “going round villages interacting with people of constituency,” also posting a link to a photo of his interaction. Voters of his constituency, Porbandar, are choosing their MLA on Thursday.
But the e-campaigns aren’t just about this election.
For Modi, the 2012 campaign – the second and final phase of voting is on December 17 – has been a test of the power of social media in reaching his supporters. The chief minister used 3D projections to virtually attend and address dozens of rallies and meetings simultaneously, and used Google Hangout – a new platform – to speak with multiple supporters.
The Congress, traditionally more reluctant than the BJP to embrace technology for political campaigning, has also used social media more extensively than ever before – possibly offering a glimpse of what to expect in 2014 when Rahul Gandhi takes charge of its Lok Sabha campaign.
But the e-campaigns of both national parties in Gujarat – and the hint of what these portend for the future – may have also thrown up a new test for the Election Commission.