Jhe mayavi or a mysterious virus dulls and breaks Uttar Pradesh’s election campaign music, which was slowly warming up with huge rallies, slogans and performances from cheering supporters. The Election Commission recently imposed a ban on rallies, road shows and large meetings for a week in the five states heading to the polls – UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur. But it has allowed political parties to conduct door-to-door voter education campaigns with five workers and digital campaigns.
Who will benefit and who will lose due to the entry of Covid-19, and specifically Omicron? This is going to change the whole campaign culture and the way of electoral politics in these states. Framework, connectivity and digital power will be the main factors of victory in this election.
Who has dedicated executives/voters?
Parties that have a solid cadre base and are in constant contact with the public will be in an advantageous position. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is known to have a strong and dedicated army of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadres on the ground who work to spread the campaign message and do the most important thing on election day – get out the vote, as the Americans say. The RSS acts as a parallel force throughout the five years between elections to keep their political and social narrative alive.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also has a dedicated voter base who will vote for Behenji even if they are unhappy with the performance of the party. They are mainly jatav voters. The Samajwadi Party (SP), on the other hand, has the more or less loyal MY (Muslim-Yadav) factor.
But as previous alliances have shown, relying solely on a loyal vote base is not enough. Parties must constantly reach out to other communities beyond their captive voters. In a non-rally campaign, this task of reaching out becomes a challenge for everyone. However, the BJP has an advantage here due to its large Hindu base.
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Who has more WhatsApp data and groups?
Political parties that have strengthened their digital strength by developing IT infrastructure, building artificial intelligence capacity, training cadres for organized virtual campaigning will be in an advantageous position. Political parties that have strong regional data on the socio-economic and political profile of caste, class and community will take the lead in the election campaign in the five states. The BJP has a tremendous network in WhatsApp and Telegram groups, as well as Facebook and YouTube. It is now part of political folklore. Other parties have tried to imitate and catch up.
The role of researchers, campaign consultants and techno-experts can increase in this virtual mode of election campaigning. Advertisements on print and electronic channels and on digital sites will play an important role in getting political parties’ messages out to the public.
But for viral content, you also need a charismatic leader. Both Modi and Yogi have passed this test. Priyanka Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav have an appeal, but it’s not mainstream.
Read also : Hindu UP voters don’t need extremism and call for violence to vote for BJP
Who has first mover advantage?
Election campaigns in Uttar Pradesh and four other states will not be entirely digital, however – they will be in mixed mode with both door-to-door campaigns and high-tech virtual campaigns. But Covid shows that political leaders who have worked for the people for five years have an advantage over those who are just preparing.
It was old political wisdom in India that elections were won and lost in the last two months. SP’s Akhilesh Yadav seems to believe it. He has only resumed visible campaigning in recent weeks. But in the era of Narendra Modi’s BJP, election campaigning is done throughout the five years with politicians 24×7. This gives the party a leg up, especially in Uttar Pradesh.
The BJP under the leadership of Yogi Adityanath has worked throughout the five years creating and delivering various social welfare programs to the poor and marginalized. Second, the BJP has acquired the largest and strongest cadre base in the state. Since 2014, the party has emphasized digital campaigns, whether through social media or by uploading rally speeches online. Narendra Modi has used social media more visibly than other leaders. Realizing the importance of this, the executives started collecting more phone numbers and data and broadcasting their agenda via WhatsApp. The direct and indirect, visible and invisible support of the RSS cadres is an additional asset for the BJP.
The Samajwadi party also has a strong organizational presence in the state, but is in the process of developing a strong virtual network. Meanwhile, the BSP has a mass base of executives but has yet to develop effective virtual campaigns. Congress has the ability to campaign virtually, but its base is eroding day by day.
As election campaigns are altered by Covid, the political capital of parties is also changing. Digital campaigns are the currency in demand right now. Will democracy suffer?
The author is a professor and director at GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. He tweets @poetbadri. Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)