Debunking the myth that social media is only for the urban elite, political parties, even the smaller outfits, in Maharashtra are exploring social networks to reach out to the grassroots — a quantum leap from the 2009 Assembly elections when campaigning was largely restricted to hoardings, banners and rallies.
This year, the elections are characterised by micro-level targeted campaigning on local issues using mobile applications. Whether it is a small party or a big one, they have teams ranging from 500 to over 20,000 people dedicated to party propaganda using social networking. Even an outfit like Ramdas Athavale’s RPI, which currently doesn’t have a single seat in the Assembly and is likely to contest less than 10 of the 288 constituencies, has opened media centres in all the districts of Maharashtra. These centres maintain a database of all potential voters and share messages about the party and its leaders on WhatsApp and Facebook.
“Earlier, it used to be all about political campaigning. Now it’s political marketing. Marketing a party or a candidate is like selling a new product to voters. We aren’t leaving a single platform unused, whether it is Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, or even the traditional media,” said Mayur Borkar, public relations officer of RPI(Athavale).
The Congress too has carved out a team of 4,830 volunteers for social media campaigning. They make creative messages, infographics, said Dilip Chalil, in-charge of IT and social media of the party. The BJP, which had run Narendra Modi-centric campaign in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, has this time focussed on local issues with tailor-made campaigns, all designed by party volunteers.
“This time, we are generating local content in the form of humorous comic strips to reach out to the grassroots,” said Jiten Gajaria, convenor of state BJP’s social media cell. Vijay Mukhi, a cyber security expert, said, though parties are catching up with technology, they still have a lot to learn. “The idea of social media is to engage with the audience. I don’t see those type of messages,” Mukhi said.