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The Well-Connected

Obama’s Internet strategy paid him great dividends. But can such a ploy work for our politicians? Mayank Austen Soofi takes a look.

india Updated: Nov 22, 2008 22:50 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

The Americans are mighty excited about Barack Obama becoming the first President with a laptop in the Oval Office; and the Internet, it is widely acknowledged, was the key to his success.

But what of our leaders? Does Sonia Gandhi chat on Gmail? Does Mayawati message her cabinet secretary on BlackBerry? In short, are our netas net-savvy?

If the thousand pages of LK Advani’s memoirs, My Country, My Life, puts you in ctrl+alt+del mode, log on to lkadvani.in, the newly launched portal of the BJP’s PM-in-waiting. It’s an epic: 700 pages of content, 300 photographs and over 150 videos. Advani, who was born 21 years before the birth of the world’s first computer, works on a laptop, taps on a personal digital assistant and has not one, but two websites.

Is it the Obama effect?

“It is impossible to replicate Obama’s Internet strategy in India,” says Prodyut Bora, convener of the BJP’s IT cell and the brain behind Advani’s websites. “Tell me how many use Facebook in India.” Point to ponder. There are only 1.2 million Internet connections in India. And how many netizens go beyond online polls?

Ever been to the Congress homepage? It is still congratulating Sonia Gandhi on the 2004 general elections!

The party of Rahul Gandhi, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora and Sachin Pilot may finally get its act together. With polls round the nook, the Rajasthan Congress office has just gone wi-fi. In Delhi though, Sheila Dikshit has no personal website. “Websites are a just a gimmick,” says she. “I have my work to show.”

Now consider her BJP rival Vijay Malhotra. He not only has a website but also a Facebook profile that boasts 273 members, 27 wall posts and four discussion topics. “When we campaign in nukkads, only 30 folks turn up,” says Malhotra’s daughter Anupama Malik who helped create his website. “But at nights, over 300 people visit our site.”

The BJP, the first national party to launch its own site, appears to be more worldly-webbed than most. Narendra Modi’s site even has periodic online competitions.

So is the BJP scoring, with Advani shooting off emails to voters? “A volley of emails,” says a communications expert, “is not a radical move. Politicians need to have mini web-portals that can multi-task: talk about issues, raise funds, network, build campaign logos and be present in some form to the voter 24x7.”

The Left, of course, has its own take. Says CPI(M)’s Nilotpal Basu who has a Gmail account, “We have a rich website but unlike the BJP, we function collectively and don’t create individual sites.”

The Marxists may ignore individuals, but individuals in the Congress are going solo, online of course. Jyotiraditya Scindia has his own website. So do Naveen Jindal and Sachin Pilot. Milind Deora has 305 Facebook friends, while Union science minister Kapil Sibal has published a book of poems composed on SMS.

Then there’s the National Conference’s Omar Abdullah who became a YouTube rockstar after his impassioned speech in the no-confidence motion debate this July. This is what one admirer, ‘andymurphy723’, had to say on Abdullah’s video: “At least there is someone in the politics who speaks his heart. Bravo.”

Who wouldn’t fancy such a fan?

(With inputs from Paramita Ghosh)