Politics takes a digital turn
Innovate, but also ensure bottom-up communicationUpdated: Jun 16, 2020 05:37 IST
Political parties are embracing technology to reach out to their workers, and voters, in times of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic. A report in this newspaper, on Monday, outlined how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been quick to adopt digital tools to launch a series of rallies over the past week. The aim of these rallies is to reach 25,000-50,000 people. Each rally involves meticulous planning, from regular calls with party workers on the ground to providing them basic technical training. The BJP was among the first parties to understand the power of social media and it is no surprise that it has now become the first party to innovate with mass e-rallies. The BJP is also using these rallies to push out its report card of how the government has dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic, at a time when there is growing criticism about its missteps in handling the health and economic crises. If the Opposition wants to put up a robust critique of the government’s performance, it would do well to launch its own mass communication efforts.
But this is not just about a particular party. There is no doubt that in the new emerging normal, there will be a shift in the nature of political communication. Parties must adhere to norms of social distancing; they must be responsible and not put their workers — and voters — at risk by organising large rallies; and travel and mobility should be confined to essential activities. These methods of campaigning can also have the advantage of reducing costs for parties, and perhaps allow those without resources to organise huge rallies to participate in the political discourse. The advantages of the digital mode of political outreach should be leveraged.
But there are concerns. These campaigns are primarily top-down in nature. At live rallies, in smaller group discussions, and when leaders have to be on the ground, there is also a degree of bottom-up communication. Local workers and voters get a chance to convey their concerns, problems faced by their constituency, the social dynamics in a particular area, and outline their needs. It is important that digital communication is not just reduced to the political leadership telling people what it wants to convey, but also incorporates feedback from the ground. Otherwise, the already existing disconnect between voters on one hand, and political parties on the other, can deepen.