Political parties and their candidates in Uttar Pradesh have finally began valuing information technology.
Perhaps they have realised that online campaigning and publicity would not make the Election Commission frown on the expenses issue, because 'politics' in cyberspace is virtually free.
Politicians here had ignored the medium before and hardly used it even in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
But not anymore! Wooing voters online is on big time. The virtual world is flooded with campaigns of parties and their candidates. From personalised online badges to home delivery of party calendars, diaries, party ringtones, YouTube posts of leaders' live speeches and scanned versions of newspaper reports on social networking sites - the parties are offering it all to their supporters and voters.
The tech-savvy voters, especially the urban youth, are apparently the prime targets of online canvassing. "Because they are always on social networking sites, I get many 'likes' to the numerous things I post," says a Samajwadi Party candidate. Be it the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the BJP, or even new political entities like the Peace Party of India, Bundelkhand Congress or the Apna Dal-all are in overdrive in cyberspace. The BSP is an exception-because there seems to be an unsaid restriction on party members having individual accounts. But there is a centralised party website and a facebook account.
"Most parties have hired professonals like me to manage their facebook accounts, and there is immense work to do on facebook every day. Daily, I get a file of news clippings and the audio-video content of speeches on pen drive for uploading on party's website and facebook account. Some candidates too have hired professional hands like me or have dedicated a tech-savvy family member to manage the work," says a political science post graduate working full-time for a party.
Details of day-to-day happenings, information about press conferences, rallies, yatras, the list of candidates and photo galleries are available on the parties' websites as well as their facebook accounts. There are videos of party leaders' speeches on YouTube too. The Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are the most active political outfits in the cyber world. The BJP leads with nearly 460,000 'likes' to its facebook accounts. Tthe SP has 1545 (the party has a large number of facebook accounts) and the Congress 10,000 'likes'.
Taking a step forward, the parties are even offering online badges to the members against payment of its membership fee beginning at Rs 105. Even a special Atal diary with rare pictures, poems and paintings of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that was launched on the occasion of his birthday, can be ordered online by the people.
The party even offers home delivery within 24 hours for a payment of Rs 500. Two CDs of Vajpayee's speeches too can be odered through the party website.
The Samajwadi Party, with a collection of pictures of party activities and leaders, is also offering the ringtone downloading facility to its supporters.
Another method adopted by the party inlcudes a call centre facility to cater to the aam aadmi. The 'umeed ki cycle' (cycle of hope) advertisements of the party can also be viewed on the internet through the links on the party website and even the facebook accounts. There is some 'bad-mouthing' too going on against parties' or individual politicians by the people.