Indian election is being largely fought on social media now

Special to Times of Oman

Narendra Damodardas Modi was engaged in Chai pe Charcha with his NaMo fans in Tokyo. No, the BJP Prime Ministerial aspirant was not in the Japanese capital to join the chat. Rather while on a Lok Sabha campaign trail in interior India, this 63 year old Gujarat Chief Minister was connected through Facebook with his hundreds of supporters at Nimani Heights in Edogawa-ku area of Tokyo.

Arvind Kejriwal, the erstwhile Chief Minister of Delhi was in a live chat show at Hangout of Google Plus. Later Google confirmed that staggering 84,000 were live viewers of that live chat show of Aam Admi Party supremo.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was addressing public meetings  one after the another in Pune, Hingoli and Agra. The Facebook page of Congress party is splashed with the snapshots of those audiences. Meanwhile the twitter account of the party was announcing the itinerary of campaign of this scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family across the Indian states.

Other politicians are not to be left behind. Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal Chief Minister is a frequent user of Facebook and renders her critical views on India's central government's policies to showcasing pictures of her on-going campaign trail.

On the other hand Congress candidate Shashi Tharoor, famous for his 'cattle class' tweet, is still very much active on twitter, splashing pictures of his interviews and campaigns.

In a nutshell almost no politician worth his salt is left behind in this use of the social media. Dubbed 'the greatest show on Earth' this gigantic polling exercise is the centre of attention of world the media now. And that is indeed for good many reasons.

The total registered number of voters in this election is a staggering 814 million, while the combined numbers of voters in the USA and 28 member nations European Union is 540 million.

The cost of the last presidential election in the US was $7 billion while rough estimate of Indian parliamentary election now stands at a whopping figure of $5 billion.

Financially, Indian parliamentary election is too big to ignore which offers the social media giants unique business opportunity.

On one hand, politicians long to make inroads into voters' heart through these platforms, and on other hand, with revenue model based on viewership, social media wants to have a slice of the $5 billion cake.  As India is a young nation, its youth is ever ready to venture to new technology frontier.

Though still miles behind compared to the Western economies as far as penetration of Internet is concerned, the nation is speeding ahead with mobile subscription and it is needless to say majority of these new connections are armed with Internet.   Use of social media platform, therefore, enables the parties and candidates in fray to penetrate deeper into the minds of young voters and create a new vote bank.

The growth of Facebook in India has been phenomenal, rather meteoric. Starting its Indian operation in Hyderabad in 2010 with merely eight million users, this global social networking giant now boasts of a user base of 100 million in India.

It aims to be omnipresent and therefore targets India's ever-growing mobile phone market. Today, this platform is perhaps the most sought after platform of the Indian politicians, political parties and candidates in fray.  

There isn't probably a single party or a single candidate, a single minister and a single chief minister who would not use this platform to make deeper inroads into the voters' minds.

Twitter and Google are not too far behind. The elections have offered them equal opportunity to reinforce and consolidate their standings in India. These two platforms too are being used heavily.

Emergence of social media as a very effective tool for campaigns has added a new and stupendous dimension to the elections this year.

The next election, due in 2019, will probably be fought only on social media platforms. And by that time Internet users in India will soar well beyond 300 millions — over forty per cent of the country's total electorate.

They would be those who would never attend elections rallies to listen to what their candidates and parties have to say. They would be those who would prefer to listen to them on social media forums.
Will politics in India, parties and candidates be able to afford to ignore this platform?

The author is a senior journalist specialised in technology. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely his and not of Times of Oman.


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