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HindustanTimes Wed,03 Sep 2014

Inside Amit Shah's 'social media war room', election activities are monitored in UP

Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times  Lucknow, May 01, 2014
First Published: 08:44 IST(1/5/2014) | Last Updated: 16:05 IST(1/5/2014)

Monday, 10.30pm. BJP’s UP election in-charge Amit Shah is connected to 265 election booth heads in the state, reviewing the preparations for the April 30 Lok Sabha polls.

Welcome to the ‘social media war room’ of BJP on the first floor of the party’s state unit headquarters in Lucknow’s Lalbagh. From this place, apart from monitoring Twitter, Facebook and a constant flow of news, a team tracks the smallest of households the BJP has touched, ground challenges, profile and leanings of each voter, resources needed to win in a booth or constituency, and much more. It is an unprecedented deployment of smart youngsters and technology to control every inch of BJP’s crucial battlefields, UP and cyberspace.

Monitoring even call drops during the conversation, Shah fires up the BJP workers spread far and wide across the state, telling them that the party will fight every election from panchayat to Parliament in UP; that resurrection of party during 2014 polls was in their longterm political interest.

Even late at night, the war room behind access-control doors and no- entry signs hums with activity. Apart from 45-year-old Sunil Bansal, full-time Sangh pracharak and UP election manager attached to Shah, HT finds 50-odd volunteers (all aged under 35) working on 30 computer consoles with equal number of headsets.

Rishi Raj Singh, a chemical engineer who graduated from IIT-Kanpur in 2011, is monitoring through GPS the movements of 350 Narendra Modi raths or ‘chhota haathis’ promoting BJP’s PM candidate.

Some of these are in the remotest parts of east UP, where the three remaining phases of the election battle will be fought. Attached to Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG), an NGO, Singh says party volunteers have reached all 92,000 villages in the state through hired 400 Tata Ace mini-trucks to canvass for Modi.

“We use X-lite software in the ‘war room’ for monitoring election activity at a micro level. Since my IIT days, I have been interested in development and governance. I left my job as an investment banker two years ago to promote development, which is synonymous with Modi. This is the first time that the party is using technology to scientifically monitor elections,” he said.

Even Parita Parekh, who studied South Asian studies from Brown University, US, in 2012, was attracted to Modi’s governance model and wanted to join the campaign to help him become PM. Before moving to the ‘war room’ in Lucknow, Parekh had worked for the BJP in Maharashtra.

There are more than 80 such volunteers handling eight subsidiary war rooms in UP and generating election data to push party candidates to victory.

While Shah engages the volunteers in a review meeting and feedback from other centres, Bansal informs that the war room was set-up with Rs. 35 lakh and hired LCD TVs, computers and dedicated servers on February 15.

“For the past three months, we have kept our workers on toes with voter assessment, reach and response. We have 50 engineering students in the ‘war room’ and 12 volunteers continously monitoring the feedback call centre.

Three party workers coordinate with the feedback centre and communicate any change in strategy to local action teams in each parliamentary constituency,” said Bansal.

A routine booth in-charge report reveals the extent to which this unit is managing the nuts and bolts of the election.

“From the call centre, our volunteers contact voters and prospective volunteers who made missed calls to a Narendra Modi toll-free number or the party website. They develop voter profiles. The feedback centre tracks whether the BJP booth incharge is in control of a situation and whether extra effort needs to be made in identified sensitive booths,” said Shah.

Such a young, educated army and technology-driven ‘war room’ is unprecedented, at least in UP elections. It is to be seen if it brings unprecedented results on May 16.


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