Hashtag tamasha

In the run-up to the 2014 general elections political parties are beginning to pay more attention to social media. Thanks to its traditional support among non-resident Indians and the online population, BJP is ahead in the social media game. Congress is now making a determined bid to catch up. A team of party heavyweights and union ministers, working with the blessings of Rahul Gandhi, is leading the push. There is reportedly a budget of 100 crore and a strong army of professional tweeters to take the battle to the BJP. The result is showing. In the last few months, Congress has been able to set off a few trending hashtags attacking Narendra Modi. Most recently, when the Modi camp reportedly claimed that he had single-handedly rescued 15,000 Gujaratis, a Congress-sponsored tweet #NoPoliticsOverCalamity started trending. #FailureModi, # feku are other hashtags, which have taken on Modi successfully.

Social media is not a forum to debate policy intricacies; It is a personality driven channel that rides on adrenalin rush. Given the passion Modi is rising with his brand of muscular politics among the social media crowd, he remains BJP’s trump card. Politics on social media is really about on which side of the Modi divide you stand. In the short run, no high-pressure campaign by anyone can alter this fact. According to an analysis by a consultancy firm Blogworks, between January and April, 2013, Modi got more than thrice as many ‘mentions’ as Rahul Gandhi on Twitter. From the 18– 34 years of age segment, Rahul Gandhi got 67% of his mentions and Modi, 63%. But in absolute numbers Modi got more support from this group as well. Among the women, Narendra Modi got more mentions (30%) than Sushma Swaraj (24%).

But social media is unlikely to make any impact on the elections beyond creating an entertaining buzz. The penetration of Internet currently estimated at 160 million is low in the country. A substantial chunk of them are below the voting age. We also need to see how many of the social media stalwarts actually go and vote. Most importantly, Indian elections are decided in the villages.

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(Contributed by Premananda Pai)

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