War rooms are getting ready and thousands of volunteers being trained in data analytics and communication through digital platforms as parties, including not just the Congress and the BJP but also smaller players like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), prep for the electoral battle ahead.
The Congress, which seems to have learnt its lessons from 2014, is scaling up its operations to challenge the BJP on a front which has been the saffron party’s forte.
Last week, Congress president Rahul Gandhi put out a Facebook post inviting people to fill out a customised form to improve the party’s communications. The party also shared a WhatsApp number and asked users to connect on the platform.
The BJP, the first party to realise the potential of social media, is still formidable in the digital space with a robust organisation ready to face the opposition’s challenge.
It has approximately 1.2 million volunteers, an ever-increasing network, said BJP’s national information and technology in-charge Amit Malviya.
“BJP’s social media strategy relies on its well-trained cadre, who are adept at using the medium for political communication, and committed volunteer network,” Malviya said.
The Congress is not alone in realising the importance of social media to checkmate the BJP.
Even the CPI (M), which has relied on traditional outreach initiatives in the past, is looking to expand its digital presence.
The party’s social media team coordinator Pranjal said 2019 would be fought in the digital space and on the ground as most parties are looking to match the challenge posed by the BJP.
The CPI (M) has dedicated teams in states such as Kerala, West Bengal, Tripura and Tamil Nadu looking after the digital space.
The party has a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and is working to scale up activity on all of these as well as its YouTube channel. Parties are also looking at data analytics to expand their connect with workers and voters.
BJP’s Malviya said studying electoral data to interpret voting patterns is not new to electoral politics, but the advent of big data and machine learning facilitated deeper analysis and insights.
CPI(M)’s Pranjal also acknowledged that data analytics was an important sphere, but conceded that it needed a special skill set and wondered how his party would meet the challenge.
Noting that data analytics would be crucial for elections, AAP’s Lal cautioned, “After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, we will be very careful as to how the data is being procured and we will be very cautious how others use it, keeping a watch on others.”
The UK-based data mining firm was accused of harvesting personal user data from Facebook illegally to influence polls in several countries.
At an estimated 462.12 million, India has the second highest number of internet users in the world after China.
In 2019, it is estimated there will be 258.27 million social network users in India, up from close to 168 million in 2016, according to market research firm Statista.