2019 Lok Sabha elections: Inside the social media war room of political parties - Hindustan Times

2019 Lok Sabha elections: Inside the social media war room of political parties

By, Mumbai
Apr 12, 2019 11:07 PM IST

While 2014 saw parties taking to Twitter and Facebook, the tools of 2019 (Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat) have made the scale bigger, tools sharper and the messages shorter.

Alliance (check), strategies (check) and promises (check) – political parties are ready for level two. Here’s the challenge: You have put up banners announcing your plans, but how will a generation (1.19 crore of 8.73 crore in the state are first-time voters) that doesn’t bother to look up from their phones even when they are outdoors read it? Solution: Put them on Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat.

While 2014 saw parties taking to Twitter and Facebook, the tools of 2019 (Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat) have made the scale bigger, tools sharper and the messages shorter.

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Maharashtra’s four major political parties, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Shiv Sena, Congress, and the Nationalist Congress Party, are going all out to win the fight for 48 Lok Sabha seats in the real world of road shows and rallies and the virtual world of catchy slogans, advertisements and texts.


Instagram, which has surpassed Twitter to become the second-most widely used social media platform after Facebook, seems to be the go-to spot for social media managers this election.

Abhijit Sapkal, general secretary and state social media coordinator of the Congress, said, “Instagram is a happening thing among the youth and the party is focusing on the platform to push short clips of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, advertisements and its campaign ‘Laaz kashi vaatat naahi?’ (How are you not ashamed?).” The BJP, which used social media extensively to spread its ideology, policies, and programmes in 2014 , is continuing to push its agenda on all major platforms, including WhatsApp. Ashish Merkhed, state convener and social media in-charge of the party, said, “We use Facebook and Twitter for long video of rallies, while we send out bulk messages on WhatsApp to booth-level workers. Witty cartoons and short clips are put out on Instagram.” Akshay Khatri, who manages the social media campaign for Mumbai North West candidate Sanjay Nirupam, said that a considerable chunk of content is pushed through Instagram and Snapchat. “We come up with one-liners and catchphrases to engage with the youth. Short videos with messages work, as their attention span is short. People don’t like reading nowadays, they consume video content,” he said.

The youth wing of the Shiv Sena, Yuva Sena headed by Aaditya Thackeray, is in charge of the social media push for the party. According to Yuva Sena leaders, they have a “natural advantage” as they are led by 28-year-old Thackeray. “We use WhatsApp and Instagram extensively as the pictures and videos get maximum engagement. We hold a lot of interactive events,” said Rahul Kanal, Yuva Sena core member.


WhatsApp continues to be the preferred option for political parties, mainly because of the immediacy and high reach. It has about 300 million users in India, making it the largest text message and video platform followed by Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. The social media teams of the parties told Hindustan Times that they have several hundred WhatsApp groups from where the content is passed right up to booth-level workers and common man.

Markhed said the BJP has a three-pronged approach. “We are pushing the work done by the government in the past five years, key points of our manifesto and the scams of the Congress and NCP. This content is pushed on WhatsApp, Facebook, Telegram and Instagram. The karyakartas have been asked to involve locals from their constituencies on WhatsApp groups, which is how the content reaches everybody,” he said. He said they are “bypassing” the limit on forwards to only five chats by using the broadcast option. “We use Telegram, an app which has no restrictions or cap on the number of people allowed.” In July 2018, WhatsApp announced the cap to curb on the spread of misinformation.

Sapkal said the Congress had around 55,000 WhatsApp groups in Maharashtra. “If a message has to be sent to booth-level workers from the central team, we can do it in under 30 minutes,” Sapkal said. For the Congress and NCP, the joint campaign, Laaz kashi vaatat naahi?, is getting a lot of traction . Political parties are extensively tapping social media influencers to promote their agenda through subtle campaign or advertisements. Influencers are people who have made a name for themselves in the digital space and can help them tap the critical millennial voters.


In 2014, Internet users in India were pegged at 250 million. In a December 2018 survey, the users have gone up to 566 million, of which 250 million are from rural India. Aditi Nalawade, Yuvati president and social media team member of the NCP, said the people of rural India are active on WhatsApp and Facebook, thanks to the growth of smartphones. “The moment regional languages came on phones, the use in rural India shot up. Today, they consume a lot of our content, including videos on WhatsApp and Facebook,” she said.

Sapkal said the BJP is curating content for young population in rural Maharashtra. “The BJP has initiated several schemes for rural India and youngsters. We push detailed slides of how Annasaheb Patil Arthik Vikas Mahamandal has provided jobs to 60,000 youth in Maharashtra. The Skill Development programmes, too, are being highlighted,” he said.


With constituencies in Mumbai being a mix of slums, high-rises and middle-class areas, the social media content has to be well-balanced. Khatri said, “Content for slum areas or lower-income groups is based on issues concerning them. The language used is regional, either Marathi or Hindi. Similarly, we have other plan for high-rises and other areas.” Shantanu Kulkarni, who handles the social media campaign for Shiv Sena candidate Rahul Shewale from Mumbai South Central constituency, said they have collected data of constituents, including professionals, students, housewives, businessmen, a few months before the elections. “Based on the data, we have made audio-visuals that are circulated via WhatsApp to show the work done by us in the past five years,” he said.

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    Swapnil Rawal is Principal Correspondent with the Hindustan Times. He covers urban development and infrastructure. He had long stints with leading national dailies and has experience of over a decade in journalism.

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