While the Shiv Sena has traditionally used its disciplined cadre to reach out to voters, it is now making its presence felt in the virtual world, using technology to forge a rapport with voters ahead of the Assembly polls.
Housed in the fifth floor of Sena Bhavan, the party’s headquarters at Dadar, cyber warriors hunched over computer terminals are constantly posting content – photos and videos – on social media, tweeting live or forwarding emails to Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. Another team collates numbers of those who give missed calls on the party’s dedicated phone line.
While political parties are known to pay huge amounts to PR companies, ad gurus and social media consultants to increase their political presence among voters during elections, the Shiv Sena is increasingly relying on these youngsters, mostly in their twenties, to take their campaign ahead in the month to come. This band of 50 people working on the Sena’s outreach strategy comprises mostly youngsters who are dedicated to the cause of the party, as well as some Yuva Sena higher-ups.
In this whole endeavour, the Thackerays are kept abreast of every minute detail. Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray, an avid social media enthusiast with 1,11,000 Twitter followers, is involved at every stage of planning. An equally digitally savvy Uddhav Thackeray scrutinises critical content from time to time.
The team is working to fine-tune the party website, Twitter and Facebook pages, all of which will be officially launched soon. Meanwhile, the missed call volunteering system has already become a big hit.
In just over a month since its launch, the outreach cell has received about 90,000 missed calls from people who want to participate in the campaign. Whenever a missed call is received, he or she is called back, details are taken down, and the person is asked how he or she would like to volunteer. Of the callers, 60,000 people went on to confirm their involvement either by supporting Sena online, attending rallies, or getting involved in mouth-to-mouth publicity.
Recently, the team floated a unique strategy of tweeting with the hashtag (#) UThaMaharashtra. While the phrase means ‘get up Maharashtra,’ UTha is also a short form for Uddhav Thackeray. Every Sena leader and follower tweets with this hashtag, which can be seen trending on Twitter on certain days. The official Facebook page of the Shiv Sena has also posted videos of various projects proposed by Uddhav, like the coastal road, e-learning. It also asks people for suggestions.
“This is just the beginning and we are gearing up to reach as many people with these out-of-the-box ideas formulated by both Aaditya and Uddhavji. The difference between us and other parties is that actual Sainiks are working on this outreach, and no agencies are hired. The email address we have provided is the biggest reinforcing factor, which has helped people connect directly with our leader,” said Shiv Sena spokesperson Shweta Parulekar, who is also spearheading the outreach mission.