Cyber campaigning seen coming of age in Indian elections

April 17th, 2009 - 1:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Bahujan Samaj Party New Delhi, April 17 (IANS) The use of internet for campaigning, being tested in India in the ongoing general elections, will emerge as a powerful medium when the world’s largest democracy is ready for the next polls in 2009, concludes a leading tech publication.
“Cyber campaigning may come of age in 2009 elections if politicians see marginal gains by using Internet and mobile technologies,” says Ibrahim Ahmad, group editor of Dataquest, which has done a report in its e-governance magazine.

“Their faith in e-governance could go up significantly.”

The magazine says parties are now moving to the next stage - from static websites to interactive net strategies by building online communities and social networking sites to actively use technology to reach out to the electorate.

In a way, all major political parties are trying to reach out to mass and class and the use of the online medium has become an inseparable part of election campaign this year. The biggest motivator is the cost factor, the magazine says.

“A spend of Rs.300,000-400,000 can get you around four million impressions - far cheaper compared to other media,” says Mrutunjoy Mishra, co-founder of Internet research firm,

“So, it makes good sense as well.”

Dataquest says parties can draw other advantages by using the Internet, such as reaching out to voters even when balloting in on. The reason: the election code is unclear on how to stop promotions on the net 24 hours before polling.

The magazine says both the Congress and the Bharatiya Jajata Party (BJP) had online presence for a long time. While Jagdish Tytler of Congress had launched an online forum years ago, it was tech savvy leader, the late Pramod Mahajan, who was among the first to do so for the BJP.

This time, however, BJP has taken a lead over its competitors by revamping its site and launching a blog for the party’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani -

And going by the figures, Advani would be the most tech-active leader in India right now, posting blogs, chatting online, uploading videos and images. Party supporters also chip-in with updates on different websites like You Tube and Orkut.

The cyber brain for BJP, Prodyut Bora, also has a robust game plan, finding that nearly 60 percent of the 40-50 million Internet users live in top eight cities and could impact some 50 Lok Sabha seats.

This makes the medium worth a try for the principal opposition and the Congress does not want to lag behind either.

“We are in the process of giving a cleaner, leaner look to our five-year-old website. There is a team that is updating content frequently,” says Biswajeet Prithvi Singh, chairman of Congress party’s computer unit.

As for regional parties, the internet bug is yet to catch on. Prime ministerial wannabe Mayawati is expected to launch her own blog and her Bahujan Samaj Party’s site has not been updated for long.

Samajwadi Party, whose chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has come out strongly against the use of computers, appears oblivious to the power of the net, so it seems is the case with other regional parties, save exceptions like Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

If 2009 general elections was the “beta launch” for parties using the Internet to reach out to the electorate, the next round is expected to see this medium “go live” to emerge as an effective tool for campaigning - as Barack Obama experienced during the 2008 US presidential election.

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