Ever since it barged into the Indian political scene, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been the media’s favourite. The party owes its existence to the Jan Lokpal movement by Anna Hazare, a public revolution against corruption that attracted lakhs of people from different parts of the country, thanks to social media that fanned this phenomenon. There is no doubt that it was the highly polarised and frenzied debate on social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs that drove participation in the Anna-led movement. The movement was successful in the sense that it managed to inspire people to take to the streets against the ills plaguing their state, with media playing a significant role in supporting the people.
Encouraged by the response to the movement that revealed the common man’s urgent need to tackle various issues in the country, social activist Arvind Kejriwal decided to take up the cudgels and turned a fierce politician to cheerlead the AAP, which he now heads. Today, as the election fever has gripped the National Capital in the wake of ensuing November elections, Kejriwal is putting into action the most valuable lesson he learned during the Jan Lokpal movement: the use the reach of social media. He is now strategically planning his moves as the party seeks to contest its first-ever elections, knowing the fact that the stakes are high.
Ever since it came into being, the AAP has exerted a pull on people across caste, cultures and religions; its members are now predominantly youth attracted with the help of the social media. This is in line with the party’s demographic strategy – tap young, first-time voters, as well as an income group strategy. It has been running voter registration campaign in institutes of higher education in Delhi to tap into first time voters. For this group, the party uses social media.
Its emergence on the medium of social media can be described as testimony to the opportunity for alternate options in the political spectrum and also to the emergence of participative governance. Kejriwal, in fact, has consistently stayed among the top 10 leaders in the Blogworks Most-Mentioned Political Leaders Index since its launch in April 2013.
The AAP has remained different from other mainstream political parties also as it is led by highly motivated and heterogeneous volunteer network consisting people from a cross strata. A Business Standard report recently described the party’s use of the thousands of professionals who are volunteering as an ‘aam aadmi’ approach, through the stockbroker, the former Wipro employee and a ‘working professional’ that it quotes can hardly be categorised as aam aadmi. What they represent is the party’s two-fold approach: use professionals who identify with the idea of the AAP to use social media to raise funds for the campaign, but plan to get your votes from the real aam aadmi. The party’s website as well as its Facebook page solicit donations from non-resident Indians, professionals and others.
This way, the party also seeks to break the rules of identity politics India has been riddled with. It is evident thus that the party is using clever tactics to merge its goals in a way the media is used maximally in reaching the people. While Indian political parties are also known to spend huge amount of money on campaigning ahead of polls using traditional media and hoardings, the AAP is leading by example yet again in this field. The party recently decided to rely on social media and door-to-door canvassing for campaigning, giving the electronic and print media a go-by as it plans to stick to the Election Commission’s expenditure limit of Rs 14 lakh per candidate.
“Door-to-door campaign is our biggest focus. We want our candidates and representatives to go to every household, whether rich or poor, in the National Capital and talk to them about the situation of corruption in Delhi,” Kejriwal said recently. Hoardings are also beyond the budget of the AAP, which has put up banners across the New Delhi’s flyovers instead with a picture of Kejriwal wielding a broom, the party symbol, and promising a clean National Capital.
Now, this is also a part of AAP’s strategy. By door-to-door campaigning, the party aims to attract funds on which it entirely depends. Its candidates and volunteers during door-to-door visits hand out notarised undertakings from candidates promising that they will not use benefits such as government bungalows, security guards and official vehicles if they are elected.
Social media helps in drawing young voters as a survey noted that nearly 150 million will vote for the first time in national polls of 2014. The interaction with these young voters is better on social media more since the young have the presence of this new medium more than people in any other category. It is interesting to note that on Facebook, AAP has got more than 339,000 fans and on Twitter the party has more than 136,000 followers. In addition to this, Kejriwal also has a tremendous fan following on Facebook; he has more than 572,000 fans and on Twitter he has more than 607,000 followers.
While it is true that numbers on social media cannot win elections alone, it cannot be denied that the strategy helps the party interact more as well as take into consideration people’s problems while other parties remain evasive. This also allows party to promote its thought process for it knows today’s voters are smart to decide information that can be consumed or discarded. Moreover, it gives young voters the feeling that their participation is necessary in running the Indian democracy.
For the AAP, popularity on social media opens windows for more advertisements and in turn, more money that can be used effectively for its campaign. The AAP team is also reaching out to different online networks and at the same time also seeking help from various digital experts to make its online presence more effective.
Kejriwal has given himself a daunting task to organise the AAP to enter the money-dominated Indian electoral process and such deft use of social media and now other traditional forms like personal interaction are ensuring they reach out to people outlining their agenda and philosophy.
Critics of the AAP strategy have pointed that the substitute for public meetings is not the Facebook page; that the affirmation to a cause is different from pressing the ‘like’ button on social media platforms and feet at the polling booths is not the same as twitter views. A lot more is called for in terms of manpower spent, in real as against virtual networking, some other critics have argued, saying social media dominance does not represent the will of the people.
Sure, social dominance might not be enough to win seats but having a voice out there is a must. AAP has its voice on social and then there is the confident voice of Kejriwal on the medium that can make a difference in the forthcoming elections. Perhaps that is enough to indicate towards a new wave of change in Indian politics.
The author is Editor-in-Chief and Chairman of exchange4media Group