Punjab Polls 2022: Parties set up digital war rooms as campaign intensifies

Published on : 09:24 PM Jan 28, 2022

As the Election Commission of India has put stringent restrictions on physical gatherings and rallies for campaigning, parties are working to improve their digital strength. Punjab, the state with the largest number of internet users, will create a history in digital election campaigns, as the state goes to polls on 20 February.

Chandigarh: India has witnessed a sea change since 2014 in one aspect of electioneering, that is campaign. Campaigning took a major turn with BJP showing digital prowess and outsmarting its opponents in the 2014 General Election. Since then, every political party is continuously working on increasing its digital strength. Political parties have set up war rooms to reach out to each and every user. As days go by, the digital campaigns are turning into a proxy war between political parties.

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As Covid-19 is casting shadow over election process, Election Commission of India has put stringent restrictions on physical gatherings, rallies for campaigning. It has already banned campaign rallies, roadshows, etc. till 31 January for upcoming Assembly elections in five states- Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, and Uttarakhand. This has made digital outreach to voters more important for all the political parties. How strongly prepared you are to take on your opponent digitally is what matters today.

Among these five states, Punjab, the state with the largest number of internet users in the country, is going to create a history in digital election campaigns in the country. The farmers’ movement has taught the importance of digital media even to the less educated people of rural areas. Punjab though has more urban Internet users than rural areas. Polling in Punjab is scheduled on 20 February. Advertisement

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In Punjab, 84 percent of people are internet users. According to the NITI Aayog's report for the year 2020-21, out of every 100, only 55 people have internet access in the country. However in Punjab, out of every 100 people there are 84.32 internet subscribers. In Punjab elections, almost every party has made war rooms for digital campaigning. Along with WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, vehicles with large LEDs are being sent to villages to give the message of the party.

Punjab Polls 2022: Parties set up digital war rooms as campaign intensifies

Here's a list of major parties and their social media strength.

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Aam Aadmi Party: A few days back, Aam Aadmi Party launched a digital voting to select its Chief Ministerial candidate, and the strategy proved right and became a major means of campaigning for the party, overnight. The meetings of leaders and workers are also now going digital, thereby saving their time and money. AAP CM face Bhagwant Mann said that this kind of campaigning suits the party a lot. While AAP has 1.52 lakh followers on Twitter, it has 17.63 lakhs on Facebook, and 1.51 lakh followers on Instagram. Party state president Bhagwant Mann has 5.61 lakh followers on Twitter, 5.57 lakhs on Facebook, and 23 lakhs on Instagram.

Akali Dal: Akali Dal has appointed 30 managers in its war room for digital campaigning in elections. Akali Dal is in contact with 23,000 WhatsApp groups, in which the campaign material of the party reaches people with a single click. These managers not only give the party's promotional material but also keep an eye on any derogatory post against the party and try to stop it. Akali Dal has 83,447 followers on Twitter, 5.90 lakhs on Facebook, and 1.55 lakhs on Instagram. While President of Akali Dal Sukhbir Singh Badal has 4.14 lakh followers on Twitter, 23.75 lakhs on Facebook, and 1.08 lakh on Instagram.

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Congress: Congress had established its war room four months ago even before the announcement of the Punjab Assembly election. The war room of Punjab Congress is in Mohali, where a team of 32 technical experts works 24x7. Congress teams manage campaigns on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram for the promotion of the party, but also try to stop the messages that are harmful to the party. This team is active in exposing the shortcomings of the central government and also the shortcomings of the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi.

The Congress has conducted about 60 digital rallies till now. Gaurav Pandhi, social media chief of Congress Party, said that the party finds the ECI restrictions as an opportunity. "This is an opportunity to digitise the election campaigning. We are taking it as a challenge. Congress was prepared for whether or not the third Covid-19 will be there, so it started setting up a war room in October."

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Congress has more than a quarter of two lakhs followers on Twitter, 6.22 lakh followers on Facebook, and 41,000 on Instagram. Congress state president Navjot Sidhu has 10 lakhs followers on Twitter, 16 lakhs on Facebook, and 1.63 lakh on Instagram. While CM Charanjit Singh Channi has 1.89 lakh followers on Twitter, 4.44 lakhs on Facebook, and 1.07 lakh followers on Instagram.

BJP: For its digital campaign in the Punjab Legislative Assembly elections, BJP has put a team of 50 people in Chandigarh, which has now been shifted to Jalandhar. BJP claims that it has more than 10,000 WhatsApp groups for Punjab elections. BJP has also trained party workers for digital campaigns at the booth level. BJP leader Vinit Joshi said that the party organised all its meetings on digital platforms during the Covid-19 pandemic. In many states, even booth-level meetings were held on social media platforms. BJP booth-level party workers have been using WhatsApp to reach out to the common people.

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Punjab Polls 2022: Parties set up digital war rooms as campaign intensifies

Rajat Sharma, the team head of BJP social media, said that a poll strategy will be prepared after talking to BJP workers for the online campaign. He added that sometimes decisions have to be taken immediately. He said, "For example, our team became active after the incident of lapse in the security of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ferozepur during the Punjab tour. Now, BJP has 68,193 followers on Twitter, 3.89 lakh on Facebook, and 1135 on Instagram.

It is not just political parties that are making use of social media platforms. Various farmer leaders are also contesting elections this time and they are reaching out to voters through digital platforms. WhatsApp, Facebook, and YouTube are the main means of promotion of farmer candidates. Talking to ETV Bharat, leader of Sanyukt Kisan Morcha and candidate Balbir Singh Rajewel told difficult time had made the farmers learn the lesson. He added that although their publicity is not completely digital, but messages are being given to the farmers through social media.

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Interestingly, this time the Election Commission has added the expenses of the digital campaign in the dedicated form on the expenditure statement form of the candidates. The expenditure limit of the candidates has also been increased from Rs 28 lakh to Rs 40 lakh. But smaller parties or independent candidates are finding it difficult with the digital system.

In the 2017 elections, 34 political parties and 1145 candidates were in the fray , including independent candidates. This time more political parties and candidates will be in the fray. In Punjab, about half a dozen new political parties are in the fray this time, which are not even well acquainted with digital technology. One of the biggest advantages of the digital campaigns is that it can save oil, time and money as there is no need for vehicles going for campaigning of parties and candidates. Due to less vehicle movement, environmental pollution, including noise pollution, can be cut down.

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