Social Media has rapidly grown in importance as a forum for political activism in its different forms. Social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube provide new ways to stimulate citizen engagement in political life, where elections and electoral campaigns have a central role.
Understanding the importance of social media reshaping structures and methods of contemporary political communication by influencing the way politicians interact with citizens and each other, the regional parties of India are ready to woo voters through various digital platforms.
Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections the Trinamool Congress, West Bengal’s ruling party is strengthening its “digital wing”. Starting with holding workshops, roping in MNCs to train cadres, the TMC is going all out to ensure that it has a strong digital wing and presence in social media, that are increasingly being harnessed by political parties to influence voters.
The digital wing of the TMC, known to be devised by Abhishek Banerjee, MP, and president of the party’s youth wing, as well as a nephew of chief minister Mamata Banerjee, has already set up a huge IT cell with a team comprising 40,000 members who are operating from all the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state with presence in every district, block and booth level.
TMC, claiming to be the top regional party in utilizing social media to ‘counter trolls and fake news’ and simultaneously creating the consciousness for its policies and propaganda, plans to create 10,000 WhatsApp groups with 256 members in each.
The party has a huge centre in Kolkata with all kinds of sophisticated gadgets to control and monitor social media and. It has a core team of 230 professionals who are responsible for publishing and posting contents on social media and microblogging sites.
With the other regional parties too, understanding the significance of social media, Bihar’s ruling RJD in May 2017, organised a three-day training programme for party leaders and workers, particularly in the use of social media, in preparation for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal led by former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad is committed to providing training to hundreds of its leaders and workers to use social media to connect increasingly with people and to ‘counter the propaganda’ against the party. Lalu Prasad, his sons former deputy chief minister Tejaswi Yadav and former health minister Tej Pratap and RJD Rajya Sabha MP and Lalu’s daughter Misa Bharti, were among the leaders participating in the camp. Lalu understanding the significance and power of social media had also joined Twitter in 2014, and since then been, though not very active but making his presence felt time and again on Twitter.
Another regional party joining the trend is the Samajwadi party who has now decided to counter the propaganda and campaign by its main political rival – the ruling BJP – on the social media by launching its own brand of tech-savvy ‘digital army.’ The decision to go digital, say party leaders, was also taken with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in which 65% of voters would be in the age group of 18-35 years.
Talking about social media presence, who can ever ignore the potentiality of Aam Aadmi party, perceived as one of the most active, vocal and abusive party on social media. Arvind Kejriwal and his supporters have often lowered their own standards of decency and have been seen trolling, harassing and abusing people on Twitter. AAP leaders are often slammed on Twitter for playing low-level politics, but this does not stop them from creating new standards of paltriness each time they appear on social media.
With 2019 fast approaching, it will be interesting to see what approach political parties take to reach out and communicate to the voters, who now have information on their fingertips.