While the Bihar assembly elections were fought bitterly on the ground, political leaders attempted to capture a social media windfall in their campaigns with Twitter hashtags and Facebook trends, despite a limited internet reach among the people of Bihar.
The new-age trend, which began with Barack Obama using social media tools as a major campaign strategy in 2008 and found its way into the 2014 general elections with Narendra Modi’s online brigade, played a big role in setting the tone for the five-phase polls in Bihar.
“Most of the political leaders made promises on Twitter and Facebook and asked for votes. The online platform allowed me respond to them directly without any fear. While the social media gave a platform to politicians, it also gave a voice to the common man,” said Manish Kumar, who visited the Rashtriya Janata Dal office on Friday to hear Lalu Prasad speak. When asked about his profession, Kumar said with trepidation: “I don’t work here; I have just come see Lalu ji.”
While he is feared by many for his ‘jungle raj’ in Bihar, Prasad is also known for his tongue-in-remarks. He recently released a Dubsmash video making fun of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah in the campaign season.
Grand Alliance leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who till recently shied away from social media, also realised its true potential this poll season, answering thousands of questions from his fans.
Astonished at Modiji’s brazen use of divisive language. In his desperation to win the losing battle of Bihar, I'm afraid he might lose India— Nitish Kumar (@NitishKumar) October 30, 2015
Kumar held hour-long question-answer sessions under the “AskNitish” and later extended it to Facebook. “I asked a question to Nitish ji on Twitter. He didn’t respond to my question but I saw he replied to several others. Apart from working on the ground, he worked very hard on social media,” said a Patna JDU worker who did not wish to be named.blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en-gb">
Modiji was always unmatched in theatrics, rhetoric & using unsubstantiated facts now tactical silence is his new weapon of choice— Nitish Kumar (@NitishKumar) October 25, 2015
According to a report, the Bihar CM took time studying the questions, clubbing them under categories and responding to them personally.
The BJP, living up to its popular image of a mean machine on social media platforms, conducted a constituency-wise social media mapping of the state, attempting to repeat its Lok Sabha poll success. The communication department of the saffron party focused on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to enhance its reach.
Leaders from the NDA and the Grand Alliance indulged in mudslinging and attacked each other throughout the campaign on the ground.
In the run up to the high-voltage elections, however, the Bihar Congress also adopted a high-tech strategy online to bolster its presence in the state. To catch up with the craze for social media, the party launched a mobile app named ‘BPCC’. The app was designed to give out information about its activities and get feedbacks from the ground.
The political parties, however, faced a challenge in the form of poor internet penetration. “I also want to try tweeting and using Facebook to follow the leaders, but I don’t have access to the internet,” said Rajeev Singh, a bystander outside the JDU office.
While there is a lot of ground to cover, things are looking up for Bihar. The total number of telephone connections went up about 10% to more than 60 million in 2013-14 and the new government will have to play a crucial role in ensuring more people get access to the internet.