Political campaigning for the upcoming assembly elections is mainly virtual now due to Covid-19 restrictions. The Election Commission has limited the number of people for door-to-door campaigning, while putting a ban on massive rallies altogether.
So, political parties are trying to reach out to as many people with just a single click. Election war rooms have now become all-important when it comes to taking the battle on the ground digital.
The News18 team visited social media/IT war rooms of different political parties in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh to see how volunteers are working tirelessly to make the communication game stronger. The cyber cells of parties are largely working in state capital Lucknow, but have been extended to assembly seats as well.
The ruling BJP has made an advanced IT cell in its state headquarters at Lucknow, where close to 200 people are working in the war room for free. The party has hundreds of WhatsApp group, and has provided a laptop and mobile phone to all.
Inside the IT room, a call centre is also being run apart from people working to upload and circulate the content. Close to 10,000 volunteers are working in different assembly seats, including the state capital.
“We can make any topic trend with just a click. Even if our volunteers or workers start tweeting about a particular issue, we can be featured on the trend list. Our work here is to monitor and circulate accurate content at the grassroots,” said a senior IT professional associated with the BJP for two decades now.
The Uttar Pradesh BJP has two WhatsApp groups on each booth. There are 1,83,000 booths in the state, which means there are 3,66,000 WhatsApp groups working at the ground level to circulate messages and agendas.
Apart from IT professionals, developers, designers, video editors, programmers and content writers have also been hired to make the digital game strong. The IT team of the UP BJP has drafted and sent a proposal to Delhi, which now awaits an approval from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The draft presents how virtual rallies will look like. It shows how a link of the virtual rally of Prime Minister Modi will be sent to end users and how the screen deployed at the grassroots will look like. Only PM Modi and some chosen speakers will be seen on the screen.
While the BJP knows the power of the social media, the Uttar Pradesh Congress is also not leaving any stone unturned.
“We have been preparing for two years to go virtual. Given the Covid restrictions in place, we were already prepared to meet any contingency,” said Abhay Pandey, head of the UP Congress IT cell.
The social media war room in the UP Congress has hundreds of people, who relate to the ideology of the Congress. The war room of the political party is where it launches attacks on opposition parties, makes memes, designs online campaigns along with the task of taking the message of the high command to the public.
Unlike the BJP, the Congress is relying mostly on Facebook and WhatsApp. with thousands of WhatsApp groups, messages are sent in massive numbers to reach out to people. Volunteers are also involved in extensively monitoring content on social media. They keep a watch on messages and videos circulating on YouTube or any platform and trend it as per their requirements.
The Samajwadi Party, meanwhile, went on record to complain to the EC that the BJP was aware that the campaign would go digital and no rallies would be allowed so they were prepared well in advance.