New Delhi, Sep 16: Election 2019 will be an intense, high-stakes tussle for power like all others but with one difference in a first, it is likely to be as hotly contested in the virtual world as in the real one with parties already busy getting their social media warriors battle-ready.
Social media played a key role in propelling the BJP to power in 2014, but is set to take on a different dimension altogether in 2019 with the opposition led by the Congress getting their arsenal ready to combat the ruling party’s formidable cyber army.
War rooms are getting ready and thousands of volunteers being trained in data analytics and communication through digital platforms as parties, including not just the Congress and the BJP but also smaller players like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), prep for the electoral battle ahead.
The Congress, which seems to have learnt its lessons from 2014, is scaling up its operations to challenge the BJP on a front which has been the saffron party’s forte.
The process to widen the Congress’ digital presence started a long time ago and digital war rooms have already been set up in every state, said the party’s social media department head Divya Spandana.
“We have a (social media) unit in every state and now we are going down to districts. Since it’s digital, everybody is already connected. Everybody has data on their phone and everything is managed through the state teams,” Spandana told PTI.
Last week, Congress president Rahul Gandhi put out a Facebook post inviting people to fill out a customised form to improve the party’s communications.
The party also shared a WhatsApp number and asked users to connect on the platform.
The BJP, the first party to realise the potential of social media, is still formidable in the digital space with a robust organisation ready to face the opposition’s challenge.
It has approximately 1.2 million volunteers, an ever increasing network, said BJP’s national information and technology in-charge Amit Malviya.
“BJP’s social media strategy relies on its well trained cadre, who are adept at using the medium for political communication, and committed volunteer network,” Malviya told PTI.
The Congress hopes to match up.
Spandana, who is credited with the turnaround in the party’s popularity online, said a “significant number” of people was working in the social media team.
The team will be further strengthened in the run up to the 2019 polls, she asserted.
The “social media warriors” are fully geared for the elections, she said, adding that the challenge would be to counter BJP’s “misuse” of digital presence to “spread fake news”.
The Congress is not alone in realising the importance of social media to checkmate the BJP.
Even the CPI (M), which has relied on traditional outreach initiatives in the past, is looking to expand its digital presence.
The party’s social media team coordinator Pranjal said 2019 would be fought in the digital space and on the ground as most parties are looking to match the challenge posed by the BJP.
“We started quite late when it comes to social media. Actually it was in 2014 that we started realising that we need to go for it. I think over the last two years, we have covered large ground,” he said.
The CPI (M) has dedicated teams in states such as Kerala, West Bengal, Tripura and Tamil Nadu looking after the digital space, he added.
The party has a presence on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and is working to scale up activity on all of these as well as its YouTube channel.
“We don’t function in the BJP manner. We don’t have secret war rooms or secret underground bunkers. But we have a lot of volunteers,” said AAP social media strategist Ankit Lal.
Parties are also looking at data analytics to expand their connect with workers and voters.
Praveen Chakravarty, head of the Congress data analytics department, said a lot of initiatives were being taken to strengthen the party’s base. These include Project Shakti which aims at organizing all party workers on a common digital platform and has become a roaring success over the last five months.
“Establishing a data analytics department in a major political party is a big step…the party has recognised the importance of making decisions through data,” he said.
BJP’s Malviya said studying electoral data to interpret voting patterns is not new to electoral politics, but the advent of big data and machine learning facilitated deeper analysis and insights.
CPI(M)’s Pranjal also acknowledged that data analytics was an important sphere, but conceded that it needed a special skill set and wondered how his party would meet the challenge.
Noting that data analytics would be crucial for elections, AAP’s Lal cautioned, “After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, we will be very careful as to how the data is being procured and we will be very cautious how others use it, keeping a watch on others.”
The UK-based data mining firm was accused of harvesting personal user data from Facebook illegally to influence polls in several countries.
At an estimated 462.12 million, India has the second highest number of internet users in the world after China.
In 2019, it is estimated there will be 258.27 million social network users in India, up from close to 168 million in 2016, according to market research firm Statista.
Bijbehara: 40 polling booths with zero votes
Bijbehara, Apr 23: Home turf of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, the Bijbehara assembly segment under the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat, reported highest concentration of polling stations where zero votes were cast.
Among the 65 booths in Anantnag where zero votes were cast, 40 were located in Bijbehara, one of the six assembly constituencies where voting took place in the third phase of the Lok Sabha elections Tuesday.
People cast their votes in 714 polling stations in Anantnag. Bijbehara, the home constituency of PDP president Mufti, had 120 polling booths set up for a population of 93,289 people.
A total of 1,893 electorate or 2 per cent exercised their franchise when the polling ended at 4 pm. The voting time for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat was reduced in view of security considerations. The Baramulla Lok Sabha seat, where voting took place in the first phase, saw 17 polling stations with zero while the Srinagar Parliamentary seat, which went to polls in the second phase, recorded zero votes in 90 booths.
Polling in Anantnag, which has 16 assembly seats, has been divided into three phases. The first phase was completed on Tuesday while remaining two will be held on April 29 and May 6. The decision for staggered polling was taken keeping in view the security situation in South Kashmir which has seen many encounters between security forces and militants.
On February 14, over 40 CRPF personnel were killed in a miliant attack in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
Clubbing of booths kept voters away
Srinagar, Apr 23: The clubbing of the polling booths in Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency Tuesday discouraged many voters, who preferred to stay at home rather than walking long distances to cast their votes.
District Anantnag, which went for polls first in the three-phased schedule Tuesday, recorded 13.63 voter turnouts in six segments including Anantnag, Dooru, Kokernag, Shangus, Bijbehara and Pahalgam.
Scores of the voters said that many gave up their plans to cast vote after authorities announced clubbing of the polling booths in the constituency.
In Lisser Chawalgam village of Kokernag segment, at least three polling stations catering to different locations were accommodated in a local higher secondary school.
It included polling station of Shalnaad village as well, which is at least three kilometers away from the station.
Those who casted their votes claimed that they had to enter secretly into the booth as the area had witnessed stone pelting.
“More people could have come to vote if the locations of the polling booths were not changed at the last moment. Many women didn’t cast their votes as they too had to travel kilometres to reach to the polling station,” said a voter, who had come from Shalnaad to cast his vote at higher secondary school Lisser.
Similarly polling booths in rural areas of Anantnag, Pahalgam too were clubbed, which reportedly affected the voting percentage of these areas.
“South Kashmir usually witnesses low voting percentage. The change in the location of polling booths has further the participation,” said a polling officer.
National Conference Candidate for Anantnag, Retired Justice Hasnain Masoodi, told The Kashmir Monitor that the clubbing of the polling booth was the main reason behind the low voting percentage in many areas.
“The polling booths of Jeshnaad and Makawora have been accommodated in government buildings, which are five to eight kilometers away from these villages. It has made the entire voting exercise inconvenient for the people,” he said.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) earlier also said that clubbing of the polling stations for Parliament elections in Jammu and Kashmir will affect the participation of people in the elections.
Security bandobast not up to the mark: Mir
Srinagar, Apr 23: The Congress Candidate from Anantnag Parliamentary Constituency Ghulam Ahmad Mir Tuesday conveyed his gratitude to voters for participating in polling in Anantnag and hoped that the people of other districts will follow suit.
Mir, in a statement, also expressed serious concern over the lack of security arrangements in Anantnag, saying that “the fool-proof security as was assured by the ECI were not visible on the ground, describing it as a lack of concern on the part of ECI.”
“I express my gratitude to voters for participating in polling in Anantnag,” he said saying that he was pleased to observe that the day has passed incident free.
Taking a jibe at ECI for lack of security arrangements in the district during polling, Mir said the required security arrangements were not seen on the ground in the Anantnag.
“The assurances of ECI with regard to fool-proof security arrangements have fallen flat, which was a matter of serious concern and should not be repeated in coming phases in South Kashmir,” he said.
Mir urged upon the ECI to look into the security aspect of south Kashmir and ensure that fool-proof security arrangements are put in place to ensure free, fair and incident-free elections.