Election Campaigning 2.0: Political Parties leveraging new-age communication technologies for better campaigning & governance

Kaveri Reddy, VP, Business Development & Operations, TelebuJim Morrison once said, “Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” And, with the widespread paradigm shifts in the present generation, the media landscape that was once dominated by print, TV, and radio, has transformed. The change in contemporary sentimentalities has placed the internet and social networks as the leading platforms of choice for the political parties, whether it is for campaigning or governance.

Internet penetration and the use of mobile phones are on the rise in the country; a recent BCG report estimated that by 2021, India’s mobile internet users – estimated to be 650-700 million – will surpass the total population of six G7 countries. This trailblazing rise in the number of internet users has elevated India’s position as one of the go-to communication channels for political governance and campaigning. While political parties are relying on widespread internet penetration, the role and prominence of social media have also increased, especially in terms of elections.

33 million monthly active users of Twitter have transformed the platform into a battleground, ahead of general elections. A study conducted by Burson-Marsteller concluded that PM Narendra Modi has the third largest following on Twitter, trailing only Donald Trump and Pope Francis. Other notable figures in Indian politics such as Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal have remained highly active on Twitter and other platforms.

Facebook, with over 2.3 billion MAUs is an extremely pivotal medium for election campaigning and is rightly flooded with videos, memes, and other information targeted at mobilising support and sensitizing the masses in favour of political parties. Furthermore, to utilise its Facebook reach in improving party communications, President of Congress, Rahul Gandhi, invited users through a Facebook post to fill-out a customized form.

WhatsApp has been another significant platform, helping political parties better plan their campaigns, coordinate with the party workers and supporters.
With over 300 million users in India, WhatsApp provides enormous potential for the parties to be in touch with their voters directly. Various political parties own multiple WhatsApp groups meant to improve their reach to the voters and ensure efficient coordination between the party workers and volunteers.

However, instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp have been criticised for being used for spreading misinformation, even resulting in unfortunate incidents like mob-lynching. Even though none of these incidents could be traced back to a WhatsApp group created for election campaigning or owned by a political party, it still goes to show how digital technologies can be used to propagate hate in civil societies.

The alarming hike in such incidents got WhatsApp to warn against and prevent the abuse of the platform. WhatsApp has also been engaging with political parties who are allegedly believed to be abusing the platform. The frenzy has also led the government to propose amendments to the IT rules, requiring messaging apps, social media, and other online platforms to identify and curb unlawful content, in addition to observing firmer diligent practices.

Other communication technologies like conference call apps are widely being explored for better governance and campaigning. Recently, BJP MLA for the Solapur constituency, Sachin Kalyanshetti, used grptalk to resolve communication challenges with the party. With grptalk, he could easily address the team working on a Bike Rally, hosting a single conference call with 3200 people. The grptalk app has also been used in the CT and Excise department by the Government of Telangana. The application allowed over 100 Assistant and Deputy Commissioners to get on a single conference call. In fact, The Revenue Department of Karnataka in Shivamogga also utilised the conferencing solution to keep close tabs on everyday functioning and governance.

For election campaigning, political parties are utilising self-hosted or automated conference calls to run surveys and better understand user sentiment. In a recent statement, Congress admitted running such surveys and utilising the insights in the selection of Chief Ministerial candidates. The party has, furthermore, used this communication technology to acquire user sentiments on crucial issues such as Rafale deal, demonetisation, women entering Sabarimala temple, amongst others. Similarly, BJP has also been leveraging surveys through conference calls to collect user sentiments on various public interest issues.

In a nutshell, communication technologies have come a long way in enabling easy political communication and are going to play a significant role in campaigning and governance. As we move forward, the discipline will undergo several transformations, given the rapid pace of tech advancement in the nation. Mobile-led solutions that work on minimum infrastructure requirements will emerge to be clear winners, especially in an emerging economy such as India. However, one can no longer ignore the fact that new-age communication technologies have turned out to be extremely important for political communication, not only to solicit votes but also to gauge the sentiment of the citizens and make significant decisions.