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Battle for 2014: Tech-savvy BJP vs tardy Congress

August 07, 2013 19:25 IST

With hi-tech Narendra Modi at the helm of Bharatiya Janata Party’s election campaign, its Mission 272 plus is all set to cash in on the popularity of the internet and the social media. The Congress has a lot of catching up to do. Anita Katyal reports

As the next set of assembly polls and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections draw close, a battle-ready Bharatiya Janata Party has launched Mission 272 plus to ensure Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s coronation as the country’s next prime minister. The party is specifically targeting the country’s young voters through a host of digital platforms and social media.

The road map for this ambitious mission was drawn up recently by the BJP’s information, communications and campaign committee headed by its Rajya Sabha MP  Piyush  Goyal. At a brainstorming session, it was decided to raise an army of volunteers in the coming months who will be trained to use various digital platforms to increase the party’s nationwide outreach. Its strategy is to use the latest communication technologies to approach the youth, who have shown a marked preference for Modi as PM.

“There are at least seven crore young voters who are not registered. Our Mission 272 plus aims to get them to register as voters, educate them about what the BJP stands for and persuade them to cast their vote on that crucial day,” Goyal told rediff.com.

The title of the campaign also indicates that the BJP is confident of Modi's growing stature and popularity and that it will be able to help the party cross the half-way mark of 272 in the 545-member Lok Sabha without the help of allies. What should be a matter of concern is that the saffron party has virtually no presence in the southern, north-eastern and eastern states, which account for nearly 200-odd seats.  

Giving details about Mission 272 plus, Goyal said, “The BJP plans to tap into growing anger among the youth with regards to corruption and poor governance. The young are yearning and aspiring for a new India and our effort is to become a platform for their voice.”

To begin with, the BJP has set itself a target of enlisting 10,000 volunteers and another one-lakh online volunteers by the end of August. This figure is expected to jump as the elections draw closer and the BJP campaign picks pace. Special training sessions are to be conducted to teach the volunteers about the contents of their message and the use of technology in reaching out to potential voters.

While the volunteers will naturally be the backbone of this massive outreach programme, it will be driven essentially by technology. Goyal explained that their party has access to technology that will enable them to target these voters. For instance, he said, his team has software, which enables them to access details of each voter and his family members.

"Not just a voter but we can get details about the occupants of an entire building," Goyal said, adding this will help them persuade those who have not registered as voters and then track them physically till the election. "Today I am empowered with data…. it makes it easier to reach out to people and persuade those who we believe are looking for a change," Goyal added.

He said a 200-plus team is presently working in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore to enlist volunteers and draw up their training programmes that will be conducted by senior leaders as well as outside experts. While one group is responsible for developing technologies, another is taking care of the content.

"The coming election promises to be very different from the 2009 Lok Sabha  polls…..it will be driven by technology. Just look at the exponential increase in the number of mobile phone owners and internet and social media users who can be accessed and tracked through technology," explained Goyal, adding that technology will be the game-changer this election.

For instance, he pointed out, the number of mobile phone users has gone up to almost 80 crore while over eight crore are using social media like Facebook and Twitter. "It is now possible to reach a bulk of our voters through mobile phones and other social media…the scope is immense," Goyal added.

As for the contents of the messages, BJP leaders who addressed the recent brainstorming session underlined the use of dignified language and not allowing the opponent to deflect the debate away from the issues of development and good governance.   

The BJP is taking a lead from Modi who was the first BJP leader to have realised the potential of social media, having used it effectively in his election campaigns. In addition to his own party, the Congress has also taken a cue from the Gujarat strongman's use of social media and decided to use it in its upcoming poll campaigns.

Like the BJP, it has also constituted special teams, headed by party MPs Deepender Hooda and Sandeep Dikshit, which will be using a range of digital platforms to connect with the electorate and spread the message about the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government's achievements. With the BJP and the Congress getting ready for the upcoming battle, social media seen a political overhaul in the coming months. 

Image: A videograb of Narendra Modi's 3D speech

Photograph: narendramodi.in

Anita Katyal in New Delhi