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2024 Polls And Rise Of YouTuber Mantris

October 09, 2023 08:54 IST

Like, Share, Subscribe, Vote: The 2024 polls may be dubbed the 'YouTube election'.

IMAGE: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi carries luggage on his head while wearing a porter's uniform during his visit to the Anand Vihar railway station in New Delhi, September 21, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

This story is not about social media influencers but rather about what has them worried.

It's about the reason why, on the eve of Independence Day, a large gathering of the most recognisable YouTube personalities from Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, convened for an intense two-hour brainstorming session in a small village in the region.

The congregation included stand-up comedians, vloggers, and folk singers in and around Rewa who have taken to highlighting major electoral issues in their region.

Over the past few months, they have found themselves frequently courted by prominent local and state political leaders, including MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who sought to leverage their platforms for upcoming election campaigns.

As a result, while their meeting began with the intention of moderating political content on their channels, the discussions inevitably centred around one pressing concern.

"YouTuber mantris!" exclaimed Kochi-based political strategist and artificial intelligence engineer, Divya Mathews.

"We are long past the era of television screens. Interview formats have changed, giving us a new perspective on the thoughts and ideas of our elected representatives. The need for a more intimate connection -- between leaders and their constituents as well as between the people and their leaders -- has brought us into the era of YouTube elections."

Both regional and national leaders have started flooding their YouTube channels with original content designed to connect with the voting masses.

For example, Tamil Nadu CM M K Stalin takes centre stage on Ungalil Oruvan-Bathilgal (One Among You Answers), a series of question-and-answer sessions frequently aired on the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Stalin's channels.

The episodes begin with the CM entering the frame, taking a seat at the centre, and looking directly at the camera and the viewer.

Stalin's response style and the overall format of the show bear a striking resemblance to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Mann Ki Baat broadcasts on All India Radio.

Avesh Singh, head of digital communication and marketing at I-PAC, points out that using their own YouTube channels instead of relying solely on state platforms allows politicians to project a direct and personal connection with the public.

"It separates their personal image from party ideology and provides a platform for personal branding," he adds.

Indeed, YouTube offers a more dynamic and versatile space for making such statements.

For instance, V D Satheesan, leader of the Opposition in the Kerala assembly, interviews important citizens from the state in a YouTube series called Dialogue with VDS, including educationists, policymakers, scholars, and more.

This format transforms the politician's role from the typical interviewee to that of an interviewer, becoming a voice of critique and scrutiny.

In addition to interviews and public addresses, politicians use YouTube to showcase their interactions with the public.

Rahul Gandhi's channel recently saw a significant increase in traffic after he posted interaction videos with students, delivery workers, farmers, and more.

The Trinamool Congress channel also regularly shares Instagram reels and videos of Mamata Banerjee's visits to remote locations in West Bengal, with videos of the CM cooking at roadside tea stalls garnering the highest views.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, on the other hand, uses his channel to highlight moments from his rallies and meetings through Instagram reels.

Maintaining a personal channel alongside the party's channel allows politicians to create content focused solely on their message, bypassing the ideological weight that comes with party platforms.

The flipping in roles by VDS also highlights how the responsibility of interviewing political leaders, especially in the lead-up to major elections, is increasingly shifting from journalists to YouTube celebrities or influencers.

This trend extends from the highest echelons of Delhi's parliamentarians to local policymakers in remote and rural areas.

The gathering of influencers in Rewa, for instance, has collectively interacted with a total of 60 to 70 local leaders, including members of panchayat bodies, municipal bodies, and the Member of Parliament's state legislature, over the past six months, as one of them told Business Standard.

However, while influencers rooted in Tier-I cities have embraced this new demand avenue, those like the influencers in Rewa are concerned about overburdening their channels with political content, potentially alienating their core audience and fan bases.

Mathews, whose team uses AI to identify and connect with suitable influencers for specific political campaigns, points out that many influencers based in rural and suburban Kerala, Karnataka, and Telangana have shied away from these interactions and even complained about feeling threatened by the aggressive co-opting of these spaces by politicians and political strategists.

Nonetheless, the shift in political outreach signals a broader media transition towards YouTube content consumption, enabled by cheaper internet access, increased smartphone penetration, and a shift among younger viewers away from traditional journalism practices and outlets.

"Unlike traditional state-run platforms, YouTube allows politicians to reach a diverse audience, including both staunch supporters and neutral citizens. This versatility enables them to tailor their content to different segments of the population, making their message more relatable and impactful," explains Singh.

Abbin Theepura, political strategist and founder at P-MARQ (Politique Marquer), also points out that YouTube leaders have a better grasp of how much content is consumed and what kind of audience is engaging with the content, thanks to readily available user analytics.

The data presented for TV, radio, or newspapers is not as precise and comprehensive.

Prashant Chari, co-founder of the marketing and communications company Teen Bandar, also noted that, unlike other platforms, YouTube content has a much longer shelf life.

"For a politician, this is key to raising awareness and visibility," he said.

Teen Bandar was behind much of the YouTube presence of Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra, handling the publicity strategy of the padyatra, shot selections, filming, production, and creating YouTube-worthy moments such as the morning sprint with children and the Kommu dance, a tradition facing extinction, performed with Telangana's Koya tribe.

With the 2024 elections looming, political strategists and influencers, like Teen Bandar, who excel at utilising a video platform as a campaign tool, are likely to find more projects within India's political landscape.

India's 2014 general election has at times been referred to as a 'Facebook election', and the 2019 election is often termed a 'WhatsApp election'.

Whether the influencers of Rewa like it or not, the 2024 elections may well be dubbed the 'YouTube election'.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

Debarghya Sanyal and Samreen Wani
Source: source image