When Aam Aadmi Party MP Bhagwant Mann won with the highest margin from Punjab’s Sangrur, many credited it to his social media campaign. On Monday, however, Mann had to brave Tweeple’s ire as a video of him going allegedly drunk to a bhog (conclusion) ceremony of the two Sikhs killed during a protest against the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib in Faridkot went viral on social media.
With Mann being the main crowd-puller at AAP rallies, it was nothing less than a coup for the social media cell of the Congress that created the hashtag #DrunkBhagwantMann, which became the top trend on Twitter on Monday. “We put the video of a drunk Bhagwant Mann on the Facebook account of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) and created the hashtag, #DrunkBhagwantMann chased from bhog, on Twitter. We also uploaded it on our WhatsApp groups at the district and block levels. Trendinalia India (it maps the trends on Twitter) tweeted that the first mention of #DrunkBhagwantMann that appeared on our timeline was the top trending topic in India,” says PPCC’s social media cell chairman Gurpratap Mann.
Behind making it a top trend were not only Tweeple and workers of the Congress and the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal but also some Delhi-based firms hired by parties, that retweeted through their many Twitter handles.
SAD Vs AAP
Punjab’s political parties are indeed warming up for polls with a Twitter war. Just two weeks ago, it was #YoBadalsoMandela that was one of the top trends on Twitter after Prime Minister Narendra Modi compared Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal to South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela. Even before the social media cell of the Akali Dal could create its own hashtag to trumpet the PM’s compliment, the hashtag #YoBadalsoMandela started trending on Twitter.
Parminder Brar, the in-charge of Akali Dal’s information technology wing, blamed the AAP for creating a fake campaign. “You can see the video on YouTube - Exposed: Fake trends by AAP’s social media team -- to see how they led a fake campaign for #YoBadalsoMandela. They used fake accounts to make it the top trend. Even the #PunjabBurning was created by opposition parties after protests over incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib. They tried to use Twitter to disturb peace,” Brar said.
Though Delhi chief minister and AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal was among the first to tweet -- Badal is Nelson Mandela of India? -- AAP denies it created the hashtag. The party’s Punjab convener, Sucha Singh Chottepur, says the comparison of Badal to Mandela was a joke and people of Punjab created and made it the top trend. “We don’t indulge in mudslinging. The comparison to Mandela became a topic of ridicule and jokes among Punjabis. We have nothing to do with this,” he adds.
When Kejriwal came to visit Punjab on Saturday, it was the Akali Dal’s turn to wage a Twitter war. Though the Akali Dal did not use its official Twitter account, there were nearly 120 tweets on Saturday against Kejriwal’s visit, sources in the party said. #AAPwithPunjab and #AAPBurningPunjab made it to the top trends that day.
How important the social media is for the Panthic party can be gauged from the fact that the Badal government’s public relations department served a termination notice to a Delhi-based private firm, Om Logic, for “failing to perform”. Other than handling the official social media campaign of the party and the Youth Akali Dal, the IT cell of the party also manages the personal social media campaigns of Punjab deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, his wife and union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal and her brother and revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia.
Former Punjab CM and Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Captain Amarinder Singh, too has a Delhi-based firm, Rep India, to handle his social media campaign. Interestingly, it is Amarinder’s grandson, Nirvan Singh, who is in-charge. “We are not in the business of tweeting from false accounts.
He (Amarinder) likes to answer tweets and comments on Facebook himself. Also, all his nearly 3.3-lakh Facebook likes are genuine and comprise people of Punjab. We are using social media for interaction and to highlight his achievements as Punjab CM. In the future, we will use it to seek feedback from people on what they want in Punjab,” Nirvan said.