Three days before Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal set out for Amritsar to appear in a defamation case slapped on him by Punjab minister Bikramjit Singh Majithia, the party’s social media team got cracking.
The team that comprises a few hundred full-timers and a vast network of activists, volunteers and AAP sympathisers made Majithia’s name trend on social media.
Enthusiastic AAP workers in Punjab tweeted and retweeted the charges against the minister that had invited the defamation complaint, building a crescendo against Majithia.
By Friday morning, workers from different parts of Punjab were headed for Amritsar turning a court appearance into a political opportunity ahead of the state elections. When Kejriwal’s lawyers told him he could seek exemption from personal appearance, the Delhi chief minister said he has better plans.
Experts say using a combination of social media management, extreme aggression and the element of surprise and unorthodox politics, Kejriwal’s AAP have created a space in the public discourse since the party’s inception.
When Parliament is in session, debates and discussions in the Rajya Sabha become the nucleus of opposition politics that often deciding the fate of crucial bills. But the AAP, with no representation in the Upper House yet, manages to assert its opposition by staying outside and using the social media to raise issues. After the Lok Sabha Speaker suspended its most vocal lawmaker in the Lower House Bhagwant Mann, the party decided to go on the offensive in the media.
“There is a political discourse within the walls of Parliament but there is a larger discourse that is not confined to Parliament. That, AAP is able to dominate because they know how to attract attention,” says political scientist Prof Badri Narayan. The buzz that the party creates on the social media ensures that mainstream media, especially TV cannot ignore it.
Dilip Pandey, in-charge of the party’s communication department, is a special invitee to the AAP’s top body, the Political Affairs Committee (PAC), and that underlines the importance of communication for a party whose brass is dominated by former journalists.
Kejriwal’s deputy Manish Sisodia, a former TV journalist, still sits at the editing table when the party is posting an important video on its official YouTube channel.
The PAC reviews the long term and short term communication strategy “as often as needed”, says Pandey. “We admit we are aggressive but on issues that are dear to us and that has helped us capture the positive political space on social media. On the other hand, the prime minister follows abusers.”
In the last few days, as other parties in Parliament have taken on the government, AAP leaders ranging from Mann to Ashutosh to Kejriwal have chosen to directly attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Wednesday evening, Kejriwal posted a video on the social media accusing Modi of masterminding a witch-hunt against AAP lawmakers. Modi was so angry at AAP that he could even get Kejriwal killed, he declared in the video. Within 30 minutes after being posted, the video had been shared a few thousand times. It hit prime time headlines on TV that evening and made page one news in the dailies the next morning.