Political parties of all hues and contours are jumping on to the online bandwagon in pursuit of the Indian voter. Will they succeed or not is the big question on everyone’s mind. Here is a primer.
“Power comes from the barrel of a gun,” is what Chinese dictator Mao Tse Tung had proclaimed many decades back. The Chinese revolution in the 1950s, became the sort of template for almost all the revolutionaries across the globe, be it Fidel Castro in Cuba to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, from Saparmurat Niyazov in Turkmenistan to Prachanda in Nepal. Despotic governments propped up by Kalashnikovs popped up across different continents and regions. Apparently, gun and government complimented each other beatifically.
Then in 2009, to be precise, another revolution took shape, a black man with mixed heritage ascended the most powerful position in the world by being elected as President of the United States beating all the odds. A year earlier, no one would have given Barrack Obama even a sniffing chance of winning the election but that is what he did in a manner that took most of the world by surprise. His strategy was similar to the ones used by all the dictators (a promise of change that roused the populace) except for one crucial difference: instead of gun, Obama relied on copper wire. His message of change was not spread by gunshots but by telephone and cable lines across the 50 states of the US.
Medium became almost as powerful as the message itself. By winning over the White House, black Obama engendered a new template for all the politicians (usually the democratic ones) to follow, namely the use of Internet and Telephony to spread the message.
Come May 2009, this Obama template will be put to its most rigorous test in the largest democratic election of the world: when the 15th Lok Sabha elections take place. With over 8,00,000 polling stations and nearly 700 million people eligible to cast their votes the battle royale for the PM’s seat has begun for the various political parties.
The coming of Cyber Politics
Since, this election promises to be a closely fought one, no party is leaving any stone unturned in its pursuit of the voter, with much attention and time being given to the first-time voters and the tech-savvy middle class. Impressed by the way Obama spread the message of change, political parties are using every means at their disposal to spread their word, be it television, print or hoardings. From roadside walls plastered with posters to fancy adverts on television. The battle for the ballot has now spilled on to the cyberspace, with each party looking at making gains by hosting websites, blogs, or sending emails.
It is not as if that political parties have suddenly discovered the Internet as a medium, both the Congress and the BJP have had online presence for a long time. For instance, years back Congress Leader Jagdish Tytler had launched an online forum while for BJP it was their tech savvy leader Pramod Mahajan. In fact, BJP had launched its own website and formed an IT cell way back in 1997. The rest, like the Communist Party of India (CPI), Telugu Desam party, Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the rest, all have a web presence.
Nonetheless, the parties are now moving to the next stage, from static website to interactive Internet strategies. Again, the Obama template comes into play. According to reports, the biggest game changer for Obama was his community building exercise, which included an impressive 13 million e-mail addresses and some 2 million friends on his social networking site. Not surprisingly, parties are trying to emulate the same in India by actively using technology to reach out to the electorate.
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