With studies predicting the likelihood of social media influencing electoral verdicts, the role Internet, mobile and satellite communication technologies will play in the coming elections are being hotly debated. Rather than the traction in social media space which is exhibiting a high degree of political polarisation by way of trolling and hate speech, what would make a difference is the ability of the candidates to engage the voter directly, by rising above the media clutter.
The ‘Chai pe charcha’ event held recently with Narendra Modi as the host and organised by the Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) in 1000 tea stalls spread across 300 cities in the country, saw the use of multiple technologies like satellite, DTH, Internet and mobile. In Kerala, Modi chatted with citizens in 32 locations spread over eight districts, over cups of piping hot tea, an exercise that helped his campaign attract tech savvy youngsters.
S Om Prakash who was in charge of the event in the state said it evoked a wide response. “There were a number of phone calls after the event and several groups expressed their willingness to volunteer,” he said. So will the growing digital connectivity make the political rallies and marches redundant? “The political parties are finding it difficult to get cadres attend such rallies and marches, unless they are compensated. I think social media will take some time to cause an impact, but mobile SMS is a powerful tool of communication, and will help politicans reach out to the very last person,” said G Vijayaraghavan, member, State Planning Board.
Using technologies like SMS and DTH transmission would make campaigning costs transparent and help political parties deliver messages directly to people, he said.
Joseph C Mathew, who advised V S Achuthanandan on matters related to IT when he was the Chief Minister, expressed reservations over the possibility of social media having an impact on elections as Internet penetration is still low. “Earlier, political parties and groups needed a strong organisationional back-up to communicate to the people, but technology has helped mobilise people as seen in the case of Occupy Wall Street and the Aam Aadmi Party movement in Delhi. They did this one per cent of the effort of political parties”, he said. Tele-conferencing is unlikely to substitute marches or rallies just as e-books could not replace a physical book, he said.
Political analyst and human rights activist B R P Bhaskar says Kerala has had a long tradition of marches as a “show of strength” often used to impress people. “Blocking traffic, carrying huge banners and shouting slogans have an intimidating influence over the viewer. The marches and rallies of Left parties have been designed on similar ones held in the Soviet Union to mark the October revolution. Therefore the Left movement is “conditioned” to a certain form of campaign and they were unlikely to adopt the “chai pe charcha” kind of reach out,” he said. More: P5