The mainstream political parties, especially the ruling BJP, the SP and the Congress have set up their digital war rooms to pilot their canvassing road map, reports Virendra Singh Rawat.
Relaxing in his Rexine-bound recliner, Akhilesh Saxena wears a friendly yet pensive demeanour. He runs a small shop, 'Saxena Bandhu,' in the heart of Lucknow, selling election publicity material.
Though the shop is chock-a-block with electioneering paraphernalia such as posters, banners, and caps, the prospective customers (ticket aspirants) are largely missing.
The pandemic has cast its shadow on the election publicity material business as well!
With the Omicron and Delta variants spreading fast and the Election Commission of India laying strong emphasis on digital and virtual modes of campaigning ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, the political outfits are gearing up for a digital electioneering blitzkrieg to strike a balance between public safety and political imperatives.
“There are only a few takers for traditional publicity material. The pandemic and the ECI advice have dealt a body blow to our trade prospects. I hope things pick up momentum when the process of filing nomination starts in the coming days,” a bemused Akhilesh Saxena told Business Standard.
Meanwhile, the ECI has extended the ban on physical political rallies and roadshows in the poll-bound states till January 22.
However, the parties could organise indoor meetings of a maximum of 300 persons, or 50 per cent of the capacity of the hall, or the prescribed limit set by the respective state disaster management authorities.
Given the vital role played by cyberspace in new-age electioneering, the UP police have constituted a digital monitoring cell to curb objectionable and defamatory social media posts on the eve of the elections.
Digital war rooms
The mainstream political parties, especially the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the Samajwadi Party, and the Congress have set up their digital war rooms to pilot their canvassing road map.
These IT-backed set-ups, manned by professionals, are working round the clock in Lucknow, their state headquarters.
Besides, they communicate the respective parties’ official messages and digital publicity material to local leaders and cadres.
The parties are leveraging top social media outlets -- WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook -- both at organisational and individual levels.
The Congress claims to have created about 150,000 WhatsApp groups to connect nearly 30 million voters in UP.
“Our social media team comprises about 200 people, equipped with modern communication and technology gadgets and software. They are a young, energetic, and highly educated group of people,” said Congress leader Zeeshan Haider, in-charge of UP Congress media.
The BJP, however, appears to have an edge in terms of creating a social media wing.
In addition, the parties are preparing snazzy videos to be broadcast on social media as well as played by mobile vans during restricted door-to-door canvassing.
“We have been holding organisational meetings over video-conference platforms such as Zoom while WhatsApp is being extensively used for exchanging digital messages and photos related to party activities,” UP BJP spokesperson Sakshi Diwakar said.
Diwakar said she deleted more than 1,000 photographs daily to decongest her smartphone.
“We have the wherewithal for conducting extensive digital canvassing and virtual public meetings so as to abide by the ECI safety guidelines,” she added.
The SP, which is seen as the main challenger to the ruling BJP, has upped the ante to counter the political narrative of other parties.
The socialist party has a dedicated war room at its Vikramaditya Marg headquarters. However, it is kept out of bounds for media-persons and even party leaders.
The BSP, which has been reduced to a fringe political force in UP over the past decade after the resurgence of the BJP and SP, has espoused the standard template of a social media presence.
While party chief Mayawati is not contesting, the party is in the process of finalising its list of candidates. Its booth-level office-bearers have revitalised social media handles on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, etc, to articulate the party’s message.
“We have been active on social and digital media. Our messages reach the last networked person within half an hour of relay by the top functionary. Besides, the party is creating fresh digital publicity material,” a senior party leader said.