Illustration by Arindam Mukherjee | ThePrint
Illustration by Arindam Mukherjee | ThePrint
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New Delhi: The official Twitter handle of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) posted a video on 8 January where an old ad for a cement brand, featuring actor Boman Irani, had been modified to send a message to rivals Congress and BJP.

The original ad centred on a wall two sparring brothers built between their homes but now want to pull down. But no matter what they try, the wall stands intact, a testament to the strength of the cement advertised.

In AAP’s take, the wall was “Kejri-wall”, while the two sides trying to pull it down were the BJP and the Congress. The tagline goes: “Kejri-wall — tutegi kaise? Sachai aur imaandari se jo bani hai (how will Kejri-wall, made of honesty, be brought down)?”

 

The video went viral, getting over 15,000 likes and 4,700 retweets.

It is one of dozens of memes, spoof videos and GIFs the AAP social media team has created for the party’s campaign. Party members say the idea is to communicate with voters instead of “educating them”, adding that no one likes to “get gyaan (preaching) nowadays”.

Election campaigns in the times of social media have taken a new spin and the AAP is flooding the web with memes, jokes and GIFs as it seeks re-election next month.

From the video game Mario to the Marvel blockbuster Avengers and popular ads, the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP is tapping several pop-culture mainstays to take digs at the opposition as well as connect with voters.

“This is the closest it gets to the Obama campaign of 2012 (former US President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign) in terms of being visually rich and positive,” a senior member of the AAP social media team told ThePrint.

Among other things, the content seeks to take a dig at the BJP’s alleged lack of clarity over a chief ministerial candidate in the national capital.

The underlying idea, quite like the overall strategy of the party this election, is to put forth a campaign that’s positive and not a hostile exercise fuelled by abuse and allegations.


Also Read: Foot marches, 700 meetings, 5-yr report card — AAP’s Delhi poll campaign plan is ready


‘AAPvengers, assemble’

When Delhi election dates were announced in the first week of January, the AAP reacted with a meme on Twitter. It was a screenshot from the Avengers movie and played on its iconic war cry “Avengers, assemble”.

Speaking to ThePrint, a member of the AAP social media team said the meme was meant to convey the message that the party was a group of superheroes up against “Thanos” Modi. Thanos is the most dreaded supervillain of the Marvel universe, who is defeated by a galaxy of superheroes in Avengers Endgame.

A video released early Tuesday morning depicted Kejriwal as Mario, the protagonist of the wildly popular Japanese video game that children of the 1980s and 1990s grew up playing.

The video game requires players to take Mario through a series of challenges to finally rescue a princess held hostage by a dragon.

The AAP version depicted ‘Kejriwal Mario’, the caricature complete with his typical scarf-around-head-with-AAP-cap-on-top get-up. Just over a minute long, the video showed Kejriwal defeating his BJP and Congress rivals and overcoming impediments like “tanker mafia”, “expensive power” and “dengue” to introduce new hospitals and ensure safety of women, among other development initiatives the AAP has based its campaign on.

There are also Bollywood-inspired memes. One of these, posted on 12 January, showed a scene from the 1993 hit Baazigar starring Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan.

The photo in question featured SRK, marked “Kejriwal”, staring at Kajol, tagged “Delhi”, with Siddharth Ray’s character, labelled “(Delhi BJP chief) Manoj Tiwari”, looking at the latter from behind.

But the meme went viral for the wrong reasons as users pointed out that SRK actually played the movie’s serial-killer villain and Ray, the inspector on his trail.

“Kejriwal is a murderer and Manoj Tiwari an honest cop? Has BJP Delhi hacked this account?” asked one Twitter user.

Even the BJP came out with a response.

Since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP has been known to be creative in its social media campaigns and the AAP isn’t shying away from beating them at their own game, a senior party leader said.

“The opposition is trying very hard. They should probably seek some assistance from our social media team,” the leader said.

The AAP official handle sought to send a similar message to the BJP on 10 January when the latter made a spoof video on Kejriwal titled “Paap ki Adalat”, a play on journalist Rajat Sharma’s interview show Aap ki Adalat.

It also posted an Aaj Tak interview of Manoj Tiwari from 2014, when he first contested the Lok Sabha polls from Delhi, where he is seen struggling to articulate how to execute some of his promises. The accompanying tweet read, “We don’t even need to make a parody”.

When the Congress tried to counter the AAP’s cement jibe by modifying another advertisement featuring Boman Irani, this one for paint, the party replied in a similar vein.

‘A well-oiled machine’

The cement ad was recreated by Abhijeet Dipke, a 22-year-old volunteer from Pune. The term “Kejri-wall”, however, was the brainchild of another volunteer, Parul, and is a carryover from the 2015 campaign.

Former AAP spokesperson Ashutosh said the AAP had been a leader in social media messaging. “This was the team that successfully used social media for mobilisation during the Anna anti-corruption movement (2011),” he added.

“It’s a very well-oiled machine with the best brains involved in this exercise. This time, they have toned down and are focusing on not being abusive or bitter as they have realised that sort of messaging will boomerang,” Ashutosh said.

According to him, the campaign is meant to project AAP members as the good boys of politics vis-a-vis the troll army allegedly backed by the BJP.

“Their attempt is to project the BJP as the bad and regressive boys of politics,” Ashutosh told ThePrint.

Sanjay Kumar, director at the New Delhi-based research institute Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, offered a similar appraisal. “The AAP has been intentionally avoiding indulging in the character assassination of any opposition leader, be it on social media or on the ground,” he said.

“However, according to a study we conducted, I don’t see social media causing any shift in votes,” Kumar added.

He said even though the party is at liberty to use sarcasm in their social media posts, people are “anyway too polarised, so it can’t bring more than 4 to 5 per cent shift in their voter base”.

Song & dance

Other aspects of the AAP’s new-age campaign include a song composed by star musician and long-time party supporter Vishal Dadlani. It’s called ‘Lage Raho Kejriwal’ after the party’s official slogan.

While the song itself was released 11 January, the trailer came out two days earlier. Dadlani introduced the song on Twitter with a “donation challenge”, asking viewers to make a video every time they sing the chorus and post it online with the hashtag #LageRahoKejriwal. For each post made in the first 24 hours, Dadlani vowed to donate Rs 100 to AAP.

The same day the song was released, the AAP put together a montage of dance clips from Tiwari’s Bhojpuri films. It was posted online with ‘LageRahoKejriwal’ playing in the background, the suggestion pretty clear.

There is also a Twitter handle DanceforDemocracy (@AAPFlashmob) that identifies itself as the “flashmob team” of the party.

Flash mobs are choreographed public performances that appear spontaneous — they often involve a group of people walking in from different directions and breaking into song or dance at places like malls and public squares.

Posts on the account feature supporters dancing to the campaign song, which also has its own choreography. An accompanying social media challenge requires every participant to challenge three friends to also post videos of themselves dancing to the song.

Then there are cartoons, which again promote the promises fulfilled by the AAP during its tenure.

One, for example, draws on a CAG report (for the financial year ending March 2018) that shows Delhi as having a revenue surplus between 2013 and 2018 — Kejriwal has attributed this state of affairs to his “honest government”.

ThePrint has learnt that there are WhatsApp groups where leaders keep each other in the loop about what to retweet and what not to.

For example, last week, when Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala tweeted a late-night image of him and his team working in his office in the dark, AAP Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh retweeted the post, noting that there was no 24/7 electricity in his state unlike in Delhi.

The retweet came after a discussion on one of these WhatsApp groups. The official AAP Twitter handle subsequently retweeted the leader’s tweet, which went on to get over 2.7 lakh retweets and another 9.7 lakh likes.

On another group, titled ‘AAP Positive’, the admin shares articles praising the work done by the AAP government. Its introduction reads, “The thought behind starting this initiative is that at times we go overboard criticising the opposition and we forget to highlight and share our positives.”

The group, which has been active for a few months, is open and can be joined through a link shared by the AAP social media team.

Kejriwal press briefings have 10,000 viewers on average, while his town hall meetings have been getting nearly 20-25 lakh live viewers, said one of the AAP leaders quoted above.

According to the leader, the townhalls are watched for days afterwards, often taking the views for each event to 30-50 lakh.

A personal touch

Another key aspect of the campaign is establishing a personal connection between Kejriwal and voters. The Delhi Chief Minister now engages more openly with his fans, wishing them on their birthdays and even responding to viewers on Facebook comments.

Kejriwal’s Facebook and Instagram page are looked after by his team.

While he does tweet himself at times, the social media team is constantly in the loop and often drafts major announcements.

On 12 January, his Instagram account was updated with an image of Kejriwal having a video chat with his IIT-Kharagpur batchmates after the 2020 campaign prevented him from travelling to Hyderabad for a reunion.

A party insider said the idea was to continue building an image that helps strike a human chord with followers as people “like such online content”.

Delhi goes to the polls on 8 February, with results scheduled for 11 February. The AAP had won the 2015 election by a landslide, scoring 67 of the union territory’s 70 assembly seats.


Also Read: Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP changes its colours this election season — to yellow and black


 

 

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