The acrimony between the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the past ten days has moved into the online world with a vengeance. Taking a cue from the BJP which successfully used social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in the general election earlier this year, the Sena has taken to these platforms to intensify its campaign and hit at its former ally.
The two issues that party chief Uddhav Thackeray slammed the BJP for – giving primacy to Gujaratis over Marathis and the division of Maharashtra – gained traction on the social media, especially on Twitter. A photo-shopped image of BJP leaders, including president Amit Shah running away with the Vidarbha portion of the state map, went viral on it, though it was not officially posted by the Sena.
“Social media gets our message across to all our supporters, but especially the young, even as Uddhavji talks on traditional platforms,” said Harshal Pradhan, Sena spokesperson. Pradhan diligently sends audio and video clips of all election rallies that Uddhav addresses on WhatsApp groups. “I have 62 groups across Maharashtra and reach nearly 7 lakh people directly within minutes,” he said.
The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), both slow to get off the block, have begun to tap into the reach of social media platforms. The state units of both the parties have their official Twitter handles and Facebook pages, so do important leaders in the party. Tweets and posts from individual accounts are relayed over the parties’ accounts.
“We have dedicated people assigned to social media use,” said a senior leader. He was watching a video clip of party president Sonia Gandhi’s Kolhapur rally on the party’s Twitter feed on an aide’s smartphone. “But all these new-fangled things are no replacement for the real rally,” he said.
As other parties find their groove on social media, the BJP, which had set the template during the general election, is deepening its presence on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, and also using other platforms such as automated voice calling facility to amplify its election campaign.
“There’s an election committee war room at work 24x7 that generates and relays the party’s messages, even Prime Minister Modi’s rallies,” said Keshav Upadhaye, party spokesperson. While all other parties use one Twitter account, the state unit of the BJP has six, and counting; two are official while the others are run by supporters, but do not carry Twitter’s authentication. To “Followers”, this does not matter. The multiple presence helps the party.
“There’s increased traffic in this state election, but it’s something we expected. What’s clear is that no major party can afford to conduct only conventional campaigns and meetings anymore,” said a Twitter official.