With great power and unmatched reach of the kind provided by the social media comes great opportunity, one which Indian politicians and parties are increasingly embracing.
Along with door-to-door and mass-contact canvassing, the battle lines are being drawn in the world of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and apps for the coming assembly polls, the curtain raiser to the Lok Sabha elections, due in 2014.
The big two, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as well as the others, are not letting go of traditional means to win votes, but none wants to be trailing online.
Going for a hat-trick, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is reaching out to smartphone-wielding voters through the ‘Shiv Raj’ app launched on September 1.
The app, which can be downloaded from Google Play, tells people about 25 key welfare schemes the CM launched.
Nearly 21,000 volunteers and 1,100 office bearers of the BJP’s IT cell will promote the app across MP’s 55 districts in the next one month.
“The Shiv Raj App is a mobile booklet which can fit in your pockets,” BJP IT cell president Vikas Bondaria told students at a symposium last week.
In Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is building on its social media presence. The AAP too has downloadable apps for streaming in data (photographs/videos/FB updates/Twitter posts) and a web-based channel .
The Delhi units of the BJP and the Congress too are on the money online. The Congress, however, is not on Twitter. The Delhi unit has a website and plans to upload photographs on Flickr soon.
The online fight in Rajasthan is heating up as well. Videos of rallies of chief minister Ashok Gehlot and BJP state president Vasundhara Raje are up on all social media sites.
Gehlot, apart from being active on Twitter and Facebook, has launched a blog to interact directly with people. Raje is reaching out to voters through a web portal and mobile app for her ongoing Suraj Sankalp Yatra.
In Chhattisgarh, the ruling BJP has identified seven urban areas it believes where social media can play a key role. While most of the state’s Congress leaders are on Facebook, only a few accounts show signs of activity.
Both the BJP and Congress leaders claim the social media will not be a big game-changer in Chhattisgarh.
All parties are aggressive online, but the Congress stand is relatively newfound.
The winter of 2011, when Anna Hazare’s crusade against corruption was at its peak, taught the Congress the importance of the new world order dictated by the social media.
India’s grand old party already had its share of enthusiastic Twitterati, notably Shashi Tharoor, but lacked an institution-based approach.
The change came soon after.
The All India Congress Committee membership renewal forms began seeking Twitter and FB account details, workshops were held on more effective use of e-tools and ministries opened social media accounts.
What’s more, P Chidambaram used a Google chat session to explain the General Budget. But strangely, the party’s top leaders, including Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, are yet to be personally available on social media.
The BJP, however, has been enterprising on this count. Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj tweet frequently, while LK Advani muses in his popular blog.
Under Modi, the BJP has set the ball rolling for a massive online campaign.
(Inputs: Saubhadra Chatterji, Vikas Pathak, Padma Shastri, Nivedita Khandekar, Sachin Saini and Ejaz Kaiser)