Kolkata: The main contenders in the West Bengal polls - Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) and Trinamool Congress - have not only set up various web portals, but their leaders are now regular visitors to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. As the state heads for one of the most decisive elections in its history starting April 18, parties have extended their battle to cyberspace in an effort to attract youth.
Trinamool has launched a website www.aitmc.org which includes details of party programmes and leadership. The website also includes a list of Trinamool candidates and the party manifesto. "There are nearly 100,000 visitors to our official party website regularly," said Abhishek Banerjee, head of cyber cell, Trinamool Congress.
"We receive 600 to 700 mails per day. The response to our website and the number of visitors are absolutely magnificent," Trinamool leader Derek O'Brien told IANS.
Trinamool chief and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee's popularity has also reached the virtual world, with social networking site Facebook flooded with responses posted on fan pages dedicated to her. Facebook has several Mamata Banerjee fan pages, with their membership standing at more than 3,000 people, mostly youngsters.
Trinamool has also roped in Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Hotmail co-founder Sabeer Bhatia to connect technologically with GenNext voters and reach out to people during the election campaign and afterwards, too, if it comes to power. Going by the advice of Bhatia, the party is planning to develop a portal which will help common people communicate with Trinamool leaders directly. It is also looking at harnessing mobile technology to reach out to people.
The state is witnessing its stiffest assembly elections since 1977, when the CPM-led Left Front came to power. The party, which was once vehemently against the introduction of computers and modern technology in India, arguing it would lead to job losses for the proletariat, is now using social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Orkut to reach out to GenNext.
The CPM and the Left Front have also come up with various blogs and websites such as wwe.cpimwb.org.in, www.leftfrontwb.in, www.leftfrontwb.blogspot.com and others.
Facebook and Twitter have become an effective tool of campaigning for Marxists as political parties are barred from using loudspeakers due to the ongoing higher secondary examinations in the state. Front-ranking CPM leaders like Sujan Chakraborty, Moinul Hassan, Samik Lahiri, Manab Mukherjee and state Industry Minister Nirupam Sen are regular visitors on Facebook.
The internet is not only being used to reach out to young voters but also to serve as a propaganda tool against archrival Trinamool and Mamata Banerjee. "It is helping us a lot to reach out to the masses, especially the young generation. It also helps us to know the opinion of youth," a senior CPM leader said.
"I have decided to take out some time from my schedule for using Facebook to interact with the people of my constituency," said Fuad Halim, a Left Front candidate from the Ballygunge assembly constituency.
The state Congress, which has allied with the Trinamool for the polls, too has jumped on to the tech bandwagon. "We are planning to use the SMS service for campaigning. We will also make our Pradesh Congress website more interactive so that common people can interact with us and leaders themselves will reply to queries," senior state Congress leader Om Prakash Mishra said.
Voting for the 294-member assembly will be held in six phases from April 18 to May 10. The results will be declared on May 13.