New Delhi: The Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh has been under fire over the past month, primarily due to two high-profile incidents.
On 27 September, police barged into a hotel in Gorakhpur, the chief minister’s home turf, and allegedly murdered Kanpur-based businessman Manish Gupta.
Then days later, on 3 October, came the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, in which a convoy ploughed through protesting farmers and a local journalist. Ashish Mishra, the son of Union Minister of State (MoS) for home, Ajay Mishra, was allegedly part of the convoy.
In both cases, the chief minister acted swiftly, offering compensation and a government job in case of the businessman’s death.
But the Uttar Pradesh BJP believes that it was able to contain the anger against it because of its IT cell. Sources in the IT cell said the party was able to counter the negative media coverage through short clips of its own that were spread through its vast social media network.
The party is now looking to expand its social media reach. The BJP is in the process of enrolling 1,63,000 IT coordinators and members for its social media units to be set up across the state.
With assembly elections scheduled for 2022, the party is also looking to pass on more content to its 1,918 IT cell heads at the mandal-level and 1.7 lakh WhatsApp groups in UP.
According to the party’s UP IT cell head Kameshwar Mishra, the BJP’s digital army will continuously work towards countering allegations leveled by opposition parties, publicise the work of the government and deliver “relevant content to the public on hourly basis”.
“It has been decided to appoint one IT cell head and two co-conveners at each booth. There will be a team of at least five people who will be equipped with five smartphones to amplify election content being forwarded from the state and central headquarters on an hourly basis,” Mishra said.
“They will be responsible for spreading five to 10 original contents on all platforms of social media every day.”
There are around 1,63,000 booths in the state.
Strategy to simultaneously reach 150 million people on WhatsApp
According to a BJP IT cell functionary, the party’s digital army will control the entire electoral campaign via a two-fold strategy. Any message, video speech, cartoon from the state headquarters of the IT Cell is first forwarded to the mandal-based units, which is then immediately sent to the Shakti Kendras and from there it gets passed on to the booth-level IT cell head. They are all responsible for sharing the content.
The party has 27,000 Shakti Kendras, each of which are made up of six to seven booths.
“We have access to about two crore WhatsApp groups for public outreach. With a single click, the party’s IT cell can instantly make a video or any message viral to 150 million people. This is the most important instrument through which we mould public opinion by penetrating the WhatsApp group of the general public,” a second BJP IT cell functionary said.
“For example, when PM Modi is addressing a rally, we create small clips of two minutes duration and deliver it to 15-20 crore people in just a few seconds,” he added. “When these messages can reach 15-20 crore people, we don’t need TV channels or newspapers to take our campaign to the public. But handling all this requires a gigantic effort.”
According to the IT cell official, the state unit’s Facebook page has around 37 lakh followers, while it has around 26 lakh followers on Twitter. The party has recently become active on Instagram too where it is followed by 25,000 accounts.
“Recently, we have started three to four campaigns. It includes the Fark Saaf Hai (the Difference is Apparent) one, which is presented in the form of a comparative study based on graphics of the work done by the Akhilesh government with that of the Yogi government,” UP BJP social media head Ankit Chandel said.
“Another campaign, Soch Imandaar, Kaam Dumdaar (Honest Thinking, Solid Work)’ is based on the achievements of the Yogi government. On Instagram, the party is showcasing the deeds and intent of opposition parties through various cartoons.”
According to party strategists, however, the real campaign will only start after PM Modi heats up the electoral campaign.
Experts say that the social media push will only supplement the election campaign but cannot replace it.
“Social media and the IT cell become effective only when there is no strong opposition leader confronting the BJP in the states. It might supplement the actual electoral campaigning but may not be a product in itself,” said Shashibhushan Pandey, Professor of Political Science at Ambedkar University, Lucknow.
“The BJP’s strong social media campaign in Jharkhand and West Bengal could not succeed in the wake of massive anti-incumbency (Jharkhand) and strong leadership presented by Mamta Banerjee (West Bengal).”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)