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India Elections '09: Netizens react to Political Campaigns

With the General Elections round the corner, major political parties like the Indian National Congress (Congress) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have each unleashed their election campaigns on the Indian populace.

The battle for the electorate mind space is being fought relentlessly (by both candidates themselves, their supporters and leaders) on the ground, in the MSM and online. The electorate in turn is watching closely and netizens are animatedly discussing these campaigns threadbare.

In a series of posts, we will explore blogger reactions to the election campaigns of  various political parties. In this post, the first in the series, we look at how netizens have reacted to the BJP's Online Campaign.

Drawing inspiration from the recently conducted US Presidential Elections, the BJP has launched multi-pronged online marketing campaigns, through blogs, websites, Social Networking applications such as Facebook, Orkut, YouTube, Twitter and online advertising. On this front, BJP's presence appears to be clearly more visible than competition and has given rise to a lot of discussions and comments.

According to this report, BJP's ‘streaming video campaign’ was getting ready to be splashed across YouTube, blogs and other Social Networking sites. Blog. Angsuman at Taragana tells us that 5ads promoting Advani are now to be found across 2000 websites.

Arun Subrahmanian is happy to note that in the upcoming elections, political parties are campaigning aggressively online and making use of open source software to do so. He writes in his blog:

The Prime Ministerial candidate of BJP, LK Advani has not only created his website and blog but is also marketing his website and blog heavily on the internet through search engine marketing. In the past several week i have seen different advertisements regarding this website online. BJP is actively promoting the website using Google Adwords. Whenever you visit an India related website you will definitely find the advertisement of this website.

The website of L K Advani is using Joomla (Joomla is an open source content management system). It is great to know that Indian political parties are using open source technologies, internet marketing tools for promoting their election campaign.

Screen shot of BJP ad at Sify News, a news portal

Screen shot of BJP ad at Sify News, a news portal

The AD Zone remarks:

‘Advani for PM’ must be the biggest spending advertising campaign on the Internet today.

Some bloggers however, are finding the splash of ads a wee bit annoying. Gururaj writes:

I wonder how much they spend on adwords each day or maybe an hour. If you are from India, from 2 months you can see only these ads on every blog/site on the internet. They are targeting indian internet users heavily. Personally I do like BJP, but ahem.. these ads are kinda annoying.

Sushant Kumar of Speak India Blog has some issues with the content of the aggressive online marketing of the BJP. Kumar feels that the execution is not very effective as it has some ‘serious flaws’ . According to him, the ad space should have been better utilised to crisply convey the BJP's election promises and strengths rather than merely pointing the viewer to Advani's website. He says:

The online user is smart and has less time to read long blog entries that too political ones,  hence the important points need to be conveyed boldly through the ads itself.

Sidin Vadukut, in a newspaper column writes an open letter to L.K. Advani saying that instead focusing his campaign on negatives, namely ‘name calling and finger pointing’ at the Congress, he should use his online campaign to drive home his vision for the country. He writes:

You have an opportunity to finally give Indian the positive approach to debate and politics that we have long missed. And even if you can’t do it nationally, you can do it on your blog. Talk about your hopes and aspirations. About what you will do to make this a better country. Tell us how young people can help you. Convince us of the vision you have for this country. But most of all, Mr Advani, realise that blogs are so 2007. We are all on Twitter now.

Interestingly though, the BJP campaign is very much on Twitter as well, through the official @bjp_, and its supporters such as @missionbjp, @friendsofbjp and @4bjp. The Twitter world is also buzzing with discussion and comments on these election campaigns. Harsha Pramod summarises some of the reactions being tweeted w.r.t the BJP's online marketing blitz.

Many expressed the opinion that BJP’s online advertisements might give over-exposure to the party. “What BJP doesn’t know is that too much communication kills a bad product faster!” says a tweet. “These days I am seeing Mr LK Advani on almost all sites…”, adds another. “Wow BJP is harnessing Google ad words to the hilt – any search for Congress, Rahul Gandhi or related gives you a Google ad on Advani,” says another. Political parties are being promoted on Twitter by unofficial Twitter accounts, much to the dismay of other users. “No politics on twitter ….pls… y do i c (why do I see) BJP & Congress surfacing?” asks another. “Is blog world becoming BJP world?” Exclaims another.

Some other comments from Twitter:

balajil woo amazed at the innovative style of bjp http://lkadvani.in/eng/ , friends of BJP http://friendsofbjp.org/, advani@campus .. This is the way to go :)

abhiramr Wonder how much the BJP has spent on their online  Ad campaign.

SatyaVyas getting sick scraps from BJP‘s online campaign I am sure that 250 crore spent on Advani's campaign are going down the drain..leave me alone.

thecomicproject @nikhilnarayanan INC is woefully behind. BJP is smarter, engaging online, might turn blogs into a counterweight (if light) to MSM

Interestingly though, while there is a lot of noise around online campaigning, some bloggers like Joseph Thomas are sounding a note of caution. For example, Joseph says:

There are a lot of online campaigns going on behalf of several candidates for India general elections in 2009. The whole drama is very interesting. It looks like the campaign officers believe that the online campaign is going to work in India just like it did in USA. Evidently, they have not considered the % of citizens in India who use Internet and what % of it would actually go to the polling booths.

Joseph feels that a mere online blitz without being backed up by a solid on-the-ground campaign will simply not work in a country like ours. He makes a case in point while discussing the Facebook support group for Mallika Sarabhai who is contesting the elections from Gandhinagar in Gujrat, against BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Mr. L.K Advani. He writes:

Then there is Mallika Sarabhai who is contesting against L K Advani from Gandhinagar. I was kind of surprised to see her Facebook support group as I do not understand how it is going to help her win the elections in Gandhinagar. I’m just wondering, how many of the Gandhinagar voters are going to vote for Mallika Sarabhai just because of her online campaigns? How many Netizens are there in her constituency? How are the online campaigns going to work if the on-ground campaigns are not working? So I think she better use her time for on-ground work, encouraging people to vote, convince them of the politics of BJP, and how she can make Gujarat a better place. It just doesn’t matter a person from Thrissur constituency (in Kerala) supporting Mallika Sarabhai to win from Gandhinagar (in Gujrat) through a Facebook group, because it is finally up to the people of Gandhinagar to decide whether she goes into parliament or not.

Watch this space for the next post in the series – blogger reactions to the Congress (INC) campaign.

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