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Politics, technology make familiar bedfellows

November 24, 2008 11:56 IST

During the US elections, Barack Obama's managers flooded YouTube, the popular video sharing website, with his speeches and profiles, giving a new impetus to political campaigns in the era of the internet. Indian leaders, too, have fast realised that age-old street corner meetings, rallies, and posters are not enough to catch votes in today's India.

Both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opponents in five out of six states going to polls in this round, are depending on the internet and other wireless technologies to campaign.

Vijay Kumar Malhotra, BJP's chief ministerial candidate in Delhi, was quick to launch his website, with help from his daughter and grand-daughter, to open a new route of communication with voters.

"Frankly speaking, we got the idea after Lalu Prasad's and Omar Abdullah's speeches during the Parliament Trust Vote received the most hits on YouTube," said a senior BJP functionary. Zealous supporters had uploaded news channel clippings of the two speeches, which received enormous applause in Parliament, on the site.

Malhotra's prime competitor in Delhi, Chief Minister Sheila Dixit still believes that traditional ways of campaigning are the best suited for her. While the two- time CM roams around her constituency in a car, her colleagues in Rajasthan have chosen the internet to reach out to voters.

Two video advertisements have been prepared by professional agencies and released on websites like Rediff, Yahoo! and MSN.

"This medium is commendable in its versatility -- from blogging, commenting and debating on an array of topics related to the Rajasthan elections to uploading videos for the youth.

It allows a one-on-one communication channel with the voter, which is very effective," says Atul Hegde, the CEO of Ignitee India, the agency behind this campaign.

Many would remember random calls on their mobiles phones during the 2004 elections, in which the caller identity facility told them no more than "private number". Once connected, a familiar, rich-in-bass voice said: "Namaskar. This is Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was the brainchild of Pramod Mahajan, who was once the telecommunications minister in the National Democratic Alliance government led by BJP.

This time, the Congress has adopted this mobile strategy. Many Congress candidates in Delhi are sending frequent SMSs and making cold calls, very much in the fashion of tele-marketing executives, to the residents of their constituencies.

Hari Shankar Gupta of the Congress, pitted against BJP's Mangeram Garg, is sending messages, "Vote for Hari Shankar Gupta. The young leader can solve all your problems."

Digvijay Singh, the former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and a key campaign strategist of the Congress, says these new mediums are handy.

"They save time for the candidates and can reach out to the internet-savvy generation. But this doesn't mean virtual campaigns can be alternatives to road shows or meetings. These can be supplementary efforts to established campaign methods."

While many leaders are rushing to the cyber world at the time of elections, Rahul Gandhi, the youth icon of the Congress, has moved a step ahead and launched an internet-campaign, which hit the cyber space when he was touring Karnataka long before the polls.

While Gandhi travelled on the roads, meeting villagers and sharing a meal with the rural tribals in forest areas, the Youth Congress opened an online membership drive in the state. It was an instant hit.

Many young Gandhi fans professed to shed blood and sweat for long political struggles later. They also saved some time thanks to the online registration.

Saubhadro Chatterji in New Delhi
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