Memes to songs: How AAP kept inbox abuzz
The 2020 assembly election campaign of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which came back to power with a big win on Tuesday, had some prime markers.
These included concepts such as a report card of the government’s achievements, a crisp guarantee card for future assurances, town halls by Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, a mobile application named after him to webcast all important public events, a campaign song to resonate across all constituencies and the use of social media leading to a virtual war over memes.
All these different approaches focussed on highlighting one thing — brand Kejriwal, who is also the AAP’s national convener. The AAP has so far contested six elections in the national capital — two Lok Sabha polls, three assembly polls, and one municipal election. It won two with a majority (2015 and 2020).
But this was the first time the party involved a professional election strategist in the form of Prashant Kishor and his agency I-PAC, which has worked in the past with campaigns for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and leaders such as Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh.
“The report card was conceptualised around November, when the party was about to begin its third phase of the poll campaign, and had already drafted a plan for a thorough door-to-door drive covering 3.5 million households. The report card was essentially a list of achievements of the party and it had to go together with the town halls.
The idea was to project the chief minister like a confident leader who does not shy away from one-on-one conversations,” said Sanjay Singh, the AAP’s Rajya Sabha MP and election campaign in-charge.
With that, the party also released its campaign song, “Lage Raho Kejriwal”, created by music composer and self-proclaimed Kejriwal supporter Vishal Dadlani. This soon became the audio theme for over 8,000 events — ranging from local public meetings to Kejriwal’s road shows.
In the road shows, a large number of people across all constituencies could be seen dancing to the song even though, in many cases, it emerged that they did not know the party’s candidate from the seat, especially at the constituencies where new faces were fielded.
Meanwhile, a social media battle with memes and parodies continued. The AAP was clearly on the front foot, with the social media team of the party led by Ankit Lal coming out with new video content every second day — taking digs at the BJP, its leaders such as the party’s Delhi president, Manoj Tiwari, and the Congress.
The content was based on a wide range of things—popular films and songs, to popular advertisements, to web trends, to the Nintendo classic Super Mario Bros. For this, a group of young volunteers joined the AAP’s war room from other cities. At the forefront was a 23-year-old media studies graduate, Abhijeet Dipke, from Pune. “In the very early stages, we realised that we were much ahead of our competitors in the social media battle,” he said.
By the first week of January, however, something changed. The Shaheen Bagh protests against the recently amended citizenship law grabbed the centre stage and the BJP lost no time in making it a campaign pitch, openly attacking the AAP, and with that, changing the discourse of the campaign, which, till that point, was focussed on core development and welfare issues.
“That caused a delay in the manifesto, which the AAP was supposed to release on January 19. So, on that day, the party released a guarantee card instead. It was a document to assure voters that the Delhi government’s work on certain areas would continue,” said a senior party leader.
With time, the campaign turned controversial. Union minister Anurag Thakur was seen leading a “shoot the traitors” slogan and BJP MP Parvesh Verma called Kejriwal a “terrorist”.
The Election Commission cracked down on both of them. The AAP, at this point, acted quickly by changing this challenge into an opportunity by launching a campaign which asked voters if they saw Kejriwal as their “son” or a “terrorist”.
“The new strategy helped a lot in bringing back the discourse of the campaign to Delhi’s local issues such as water, power, sewers, roads, schools, hospitals and welfare schemes, among other things,” an associate with I-PAC said.