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In poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, BJP and Congress plan 2 lakh WhatsApp groups to reach out to voters, mobilise support

Bhopal: The upcoming Assembly Election in Madhya Pradesh is likely to be fought on social media as major political parties — BJP, Congress — have planned to expand their social media teams by hiring more than 1.5 lakh social media experts.

Moreover, both parties have also planned to create around two lakh (one lakh each) exclusive WhatsApp groups from the booth level to state, aimed to reach every smartphone user-voter through the social messaging app.

The ruling BJP is hiring anywhere between 70,000 to 75,000 social media experts and has named them ‘Cyber Yoddha’ (cyber warriors) while the Congress has been hiring the same number of experts and calls them ‘Rajiv Ke Sipahi’ to counter each other on social media. Soon, both parties will start their week-long training for the cyber experts.

Both parties have been deploying cyber warriors on each booth, block, district, division, and constituency with an eye on the village voters.

File images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Social media has become ubiquitous communication channels for candidates during election campaigns. Platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and so on enable candidates to directly reach out to voters, mobilise supporters and influence the public agenda.

As per the parties’ officials, their main work is to increase the presence of their parties, local leaders and national leaders on social media platforms. They also help propagate parties’ manifesto, expose the failure of the opposition and promote parties’ achievements, round the clock.

There are 65,000 polling booths in Madhya Pradesh, and both Congress and BJP plan to create exclusive WhatsApp group with the name of each polling booths by roping in social media experts.

In addition to that, there are seven crore voters in Madhya Pradesh of which between 60 percent to 70 percent are smartphone users. With the help of WhatsApp and other social media platforms, Congress is targetting to reach out to at least 35 percent of voters and is assured of converting 10 percent of them into the votes. While, BJP is targetting 40 percent to 45 percent smartphone users in the state, and is confident of converting 20 percent of them into the votes.

Currently, both the parties are recruiting tech-savvy party workers, but they may also hire paid social media experts if needed.

Why WhatsApp?

When asked why both parties are much focused on WhatsApp in comparison to Facebook, content and strategy head, BJP Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Dabi replied, “Facebook is a common platform, where one can notice others’ activities and it is a two-way communication. But WhatsApp is a closed platform and more importantly, it’s a personal and fast messaging app. Facebook may take time in making things viral, but on WhatsApp, it hardly takes an hour.”

More importantly, of the seven crore voters in Madhya Pradesh, Dabi claimed approximately 4.5 crore are smartphone users and use WhatsApp. “WhatsApp has the highest reach in comparison to other media platforms,” he added.

Congress, however, plans to focus on both WhatsApp as well as Facebook. Madhya Pradesh Congress IT in-charge for content and strategy, Abhay Tiwari said, “There is no doubt that WhatsApp is the fastest technology of communication today. Besides WhatsApp, we have created some Facebook pages, which now have a huge number of following, to share content. We also plan to use Facebook accounts of senior party leaders who have a huge number of following to share the contents.

Congress’ strategy

Booth level: Congress plans to create WhatsApp groups with the name of each polling booth and the social media expert of that polling booth will be the admin of the group. He will be responsible for sharing contents, photos, videos and make sure they reach every smartphone user-voter of that booth.

Of the 65,000 social media experts required to work at booth level, Congress has recruited around 30,000 social media experts till date and recruitment for the rest are underway.

Besides the booth level, the party has also recruited social media experts on the block, division, constituency and district level including ‘a state group’ which comprises national leaders of the party who will monitor the activates and will work as a think tank for the party’s social media campaign.

“Thirty thousand WhatsApp groups are already running and exposing the (BJP) government’s failure. The idea behind creating booth level groups is to ensure that our message reaches every smartphone user of that booth, so, the voters can decide whom they should vote,” said Tiwari, adding that overall, Congress has planned to create 1 lakh WhatsApp groups to for election campaign.

What content they will share: Congress plans to highlight BJP government’s failure with the help of short videos, texts, and graphics. “We have too much ammunition against the ruling party — BJP, which is in power for 15 years in the state and has failed to deliver on countless fronts. As the opposition, the only thing we need to do is to convey this message to the voters and convince them to vote for change,” said Tiwari.

Dealing with fake news and communal politics: From 30 August, 2018, two months before the election, Congress plans to launch ‘Sawdhan Series campaign’ in which the party will highlight the fake news spread by the other political parties and also create awareness against communal politics.

“Using communal card through fake news before the election is the key for BJP to win polls. To counter it, Congress will launch ‘Sawdhan Series’ to create awareness and till date we have lodged four FIR against fake news, to stop such contents in future,” said Tiwari.

He further added that the party has planned to run a special campaign against Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to expose his involvement in scams, his failure as a chief minister, an administrator, and more importantly, his failure in addressing the farmers’ issues.

Congress is leaving no stone unturned to expose the state BJP government in this election. As per the party official, from 30 August, 2018, coordinators of all the 230 Assembly constituencies in the state will share a video a week, carrying bytes of the locals over their genuine problems.

“The representatives of the respective constituencies will visit different towns, villages every week and make a video of the problems prevailing in those areas by taking public bytes each week. Later, it will be shared on Facebook pages and WhatsApp groups. In four months, we are likely to share 4,600 videos,” added Tiwari.

BJP’s strategy
It is said that BJP has the strongest IT cell in comparison to other political parties and they are master in dealing with the online stuff. BJP’s plan for Madhya Pradesh election is a bit different from Congress.

The party is not only creating 65, 000 WhatsApp groups at booth level but also on the block, district, division, and Assembly levels. The party has planned to create overall 90,000 WhatsApp group by roping in around 80,000 social media experts.

“If we talk about the structure of the social media team, there will be one social media expert on each booth, while six on each block, 11 in each district, nine on each Assembly constituency. There will be a body comprising 50 members including senior BJP leader and senior social media experts,” said Dabi.

He says that there is a plan to create around 90,000 WhatsApp groups in the upcoming election.

What content they will share: To woo the voters, the saffron party has planned to advertise the various schemes of the state and Union government. To make their appeal more effective, the IT Cell of the party has decided to share the success stories of government scheme beneficiaries.

“We will not only share success stories of state and centre government schemes beneficiaries but also cash on the popularity of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” Dabi added.

He further said, “Sharing video stories and charts of government schemes’ beneficiaries are keys to wooing voters. In the last 15 years, hundreds of welfare schemes have been floated by the state government and some of the schemes are very popular. There are numerous beneficiaries who are eager to share their experience with us. It will leave a huge impact on voters and convince them to vote for the BJP, again.”

No plan to tackle farmers’ issue: When asked if the BJP has a strategy to woo the farmers since the state witnessed some of the major farmers’ protest, follow-up violence, and deaths, which had put the state government on backfoot, Dabi said, “Farmers are happy with the Shivraj government. Schemes like Bhavantar scheme are much popular among them. It is the Congress, which is provoking them. The recent rally of Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Mandsaur is the perfect example where farmers distanced themselves from it.”

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