Ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections, the challenge for political parties is how to take their voice to the last-mile voter.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) clearly can have an edge over its rivals, given its dominance both in terms of organisational capacities as well as digital infrastructure. The party claims to have more than 1.62 lakh booth committees in UP, of the total around 1.75 lakh. The Samajwadi Party (SP) is on a sticky wicket due to a weak social media policy.
Party top brass claims these booth-level units are verified every two months to update the changes and the average size of the booth committee is not less than 11 members. This gives more than 17 lakh direct booth level workers to the BJP. No other party stands anywhere near to this capability. All these karyakartas are connected with smartphones. Hence they also constitute the first and most crucial first line of messenger for the party’s various WhatsApp messages and social media posts.
While big rallies and mass campaigns are unlikely to happen due to increasing Covid-19 cases, this booth level strength will be the biggest for any political party. The ruling BJP also claims to have 70-plus offices across more than 92 divisions. Most of these district offices are equipped with computers, WiFi and social media teams to assist the leaders. These offices can now be centres of information dissemination at the local level. Social media conferences, meetings and communications will be facilitated through these centres.
This infrastructure and technical strength in the state comes along with the dedicated IT cell, which the party has at the national and state level. A state-of-the-art IT and social media cell had been functional at Lucknow headquarters for the past many years now. All the top leaders of the BJP are active on social media platforms. Also, the party has worked extensively on digital meetings and events during Covid times.
UP state convener of BJP IT department Kameshwar Mishra earlier told News18: “This time, we have done a new experiment, we planned to use 3D Studio Mix technology. With this technology, leaders sitting at two different places can be shown on one podium. That is, by creating a virtual stage through 3D, the speeches of veteran leaders will seem as if they are coming from the same stage.”
He further stated the party has also made arrangements for audio conferencing. “Under this, a bell will ring on the mobile phone of a person, after which the address can be heard. At least 1.5 lakh people can be connected simultaneously. The trials of such meetings have already been done successfully,” he added.
Meanwhile, the SP might have positioned itself as the main contender in front of the BJP for UP Assembly Polls by attracting huge crowds to Akhilesh Yadav’s Rath Yatras, but when it comes to social media, the party seems to be feebly placed in front of its competitor. Even SP chief Akhilesh Yadav admitted recently that they can’t compete with the BJP in its digital infrastructure.
The SP chief, when asked about his digital preparedness at a News18 event in Lucknow on Sunday, dodged the question. The SP postholders who are looking after the media and IT cell were also clueless when asked about how the SP will take on the BJP as the momentum has now shifted to social media. Party insiders say the SP needs to re-strategise its social media and conventional media strategy before it is too late.
Barring one or two incidents, the SP has failed to gather steam on social media, thanks to its poor planning, over confidence and a lethargic policy for social media. Whatever the party chief tweets or posts is taken forward by most party workers and social media volunteers. Mostly, it is more of a reaction to what the BJP and other parties say or tweet, which shows lack of ideation from the SP social media cell. The party has failed to coin powerful slogans or catch-phrases to galvanise youth on social media platforms.
On the other hand, the BJP IT cell has not been just active but also takes a lead when it comes to ideation. Highly placed sources claim the SP chief has been focusing on Rath Yatras and one-on-one interaction with his party men, but had left the job to his social media cell to reach out to the youth on various issues.
SP insiders also claim that people close to Akhilesh Yadav have been assuring him of having good media contacts in Delhi and Mumbai, but have failed to establish cordial relations with local media persons. An SP insider who didn’t wish to be named said, “The problem is that local journalists are often complaining of inaccessibility while journalists from outside the state are given a red-carpet welcome by people who are close to Yadav. There is a smoke-screen created in front of ‘Adhyakhsh Ji’ that all is fine with media and social media management. Some agencies were hired in the last elections and they were paid lakhs of rupees every week, but you all know what the result was.”