With an eye on the upcoming assembly polls in West Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is planning to use digital platforms, social media and networking applications in a bid to reach out to the masses. For a party that once broadcasted its views through handwritten posters, fiery slogans and pamphlets, the CPI(M) is now making efforts to hit the information highway via the touchscreen.
In Kolkata, a 100-member group comprising tech-savvy and enthusiastic members of the Students Federation of India (SFI) and Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) — the student and youth fronts of the party — monitor social media.
“There are similar teams in every district,” said a CPI(M) leader. “While the teams in smaller districts have 40-50 members, the ones in bigger districts accommodate nearly a hundred, thanks to penetration of mobile phone manufacturers and service operators.”
CPI (M) leader Md Salim was the first Indian politician to have his own website (mdsalim.com), way back in 1999. “I found it necessary to stay ahead and closed the site the day I felt it had served its purpose. I even had an Orkut account. Today, I communicate through Twitter and WhatsApp,” he said.
Among other senior leaders, Bengal state secretary and leader of the Opposition Surya Kanta Mishra, Sujan Chakraborty, Madan Ghosh, Manab Mukherjee and Rabin Deb use Twitter regularly. Mishra even opened a new page on Facebook five days ago.
CPI(M)’s youngest member in Parliament, Ritabrata Banerjee, said: “For us, the two-way traffic is very important. We look for feedback, be it positive or critical. The participatory process in social media is crucial. We even invited people to prepare posters and the response was encouraging.”
In a classified report presented at the recently held plenum in Kolkata, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury drew the party’s attention to the changing face of media. “Social media groups have been set up in 18 states. Efforts should be made to cover districts in the other states. Steps should be taken to build a strong network of social media users,” Yechury said in the report and emphasised on the need to use WhatsApp “extensively”.
As part of the drive, the CPI(M) is also revamping its mouthpieces, namely Deshabhimani (Kerala), Ganashakti (Bengal), Daily Desherkatha (Tripura), Theekathir (Tamil Nadu), Prajashakti (Andhra Pradesh) and Nava Telangana (Telangana).
“Since the real thrust is on digital media, Ganashakti’s old website has been revamped with live updates and links. We have an e-paper too, which is viewed more than 50,000 times a day,” said Ganashakti assistant editor Avik Dutta.