Decoding digital election campaign in 5 states, experts say it's all about money

view original post

The Election Commission has prohibited massive gatherings and political rallies in five poll-bound states Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur as Omicron unleashes a nationwide third wave of Covid-19 pandemic. This simply means there will be no road-shows and crowded grounds. Election campaign will be conducted digitally, at least till January 15.

If there is demand in the market, supply chain automatically comes in. The digital campaign designers and companies engaged in election management are seeing a boom in demand. From national to regional political parties, candidates are roping in companies to manage their digital campaigns as they try to reach out to voters with a political message.

Digital election campaign is no new phenomena in India, particularly in recent years. However, this is more like replacing the conventional and traditional method of physical campaigning in 2022 assembly polls.

Read | Here’s how parties are preparing for virtual campaigning after EC’s ban on poll rallies

From small town to metro cities, digital campaign designers and digital media campaign companies are working round the clock with the experts designing strategies for influential and effective campaign for their clients.

HOW THEY DO IT

The digital campaign not only includes promoting political and electoral campaign material on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, it also includes reaching out to voters with audio message, phone calls, videos and LED screen-mounted vans from small town to remote villages.

A digital media company based out of Uttar Pradesh’s Noida told India Today that its services were sought by both the political parties and individual candidates. It said the company was designing campaign materials for their political clients. The preferred modes of election messaging are audio-video animation with text, and digital banner and posters for targeted assembly constituencies.

Proprietor of this company, Sonal told India Today, “The aim of digital campaign is to influence voters in favour of our political client or the party we are working with. Ever since the Election Commission prohibited physical meetings and gatherings, there is a boom in this business with increased focus on digital campaign strategy.”

‘NOT AN EQUALISER’

Is this digital medium offers level playing field to all parties and candidates?

Sonal said, “This is internet’s world and everyone has equal chance. However, it is a game of money. And, who has more money in the pocket, gets more influential campaign and larger reach to the masses.”

“There is no free lunch thanks to the digital election campaign. It is not only expensive but it is directly proportional to the amount of money pushed through by political parties or the candidates to the scale of campaigning,” Sonal said.

In physical rallies and meetings, it often takes millions of rupees, sometime even crores. The physical meetings and crowd gatherings during road shows have their own significance electorally and politically, the digital campaign is making its own significant way ahead.

HOW MUCH IT COSTS

From creating content to designing political strategy for a candidate or party, it takes from Rs 4 lakh to Rs 15 lakh a month for small scale of campaigning. Subsequently, at larger scale or perhaps state-wide campaign covering social media, calling, messaging and designing strategies, the cost goes up to somewhere between Rs 10 crore and Rs 15 crore a month, Sonal said.

Besides these digital professionals, there are independent and freelance experts who work anonymously and independently for party, particularly the individual contestant. The ‘cyber warriors’ often run propaganda in favour of their clients. This includes targeting the rivals on digital platforms. This is what sometimes referred to as ‘dirty tricks’.

THAT ‘DIRTY TRICK’

Such a cyber warrior, who wished to remain anonymous, told India Today, “There is a huge demand for digital campaigning where the political parties and candidates are spending huge amounts of money, even in excess of what is sanctioned by the Election Commission after it raised the expenditure cap.”

He said, “The Election Commission has been keeping a tight watch on the hateful or violent content on social media but there is still demand for propaganda campaign against the opponents.”

The anonymous cyber warrior said, “Digital campaign is total a money game. If someone has no money to spend, he or she should not even think about contesting election as it takes lakhs of rupees to run digital election campaign.”

“One who has more money will have more say in virtual campaigns,” he said.

DATA IN ‘OPEN MARKET’

The basic requirement to run digital election campaign is data. It includes information about voters such as mobile numbers and email ids. Those engaged in this business said such data were not difficult to gather. By paying Rs 3,000 to Rs 6,000, data of 1 lakh individuals could be obtained from “open market” not only in the poll-bound states but elsewhere as well, they said.

If data were required for voters’ list in Lucknow or Ludhiana, Manipur or an assembly constituency in Uttar Pradesh such as Maharajganj, it is easily available in the “open market” on a very nominal rate, they said.

India Today spoke to certain data selling companies who confirmed the availability of data and were ready to provide the same. The data contained contact numbers of individuals from all across the country including the poll-bound states for Rs 3,000 to Rs 6,000.

They said the sources of such data were companies selling services such as insurance. Once the election management companies secure the relevant data, they decide what messages are to be dropped to individual voters over SMS or WhatsApp or email.

Digital election campaign may not be the alternative to physical rallies and poll meetings. However, this is setting the tone in a direction to define electioneering in future. This looks to be a money game. One who has more money may end up influencing more voters.

Watch Live TV in English

Watch Live TV in Hindi