From #VikasGandoThayoChe to #Gujarat4Vikas, the two major parties are using social media to win over voters and discredit the competition.

New Delhi: The Congress and the BJP are at it on social media again, this time in Gujarat. With just about a month left before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state votes to elect a new assembly, the main rivals are flooding Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp with their campaigns.

While the Congress is throwing barbs directed at discrediting the BJP’s uninterrupted 19-year reign and the famed ‘Gujarat model’ of development, the ruling party is sticking to its guns, highlighting how much it has done for the state, and banking on the loyalty shown by the people towards the party.

Congress strategy

The Congress is trying hard to rectify the image of a weak and faltering party that it acquired with its loss in the 2014 general elections. With the help of a strong regional media team, it is making a big effort through social media and its blog to attack the BJP on issues such as the Jay Shah and Narendra Patel controversies, the Goods and Services Tax and the ‘Gujarat model’.

Gujarat elections: Decoding Congress and BJP's social media war

It has also openly ridiculed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah – both of whom belong to the state and held power for over a decade – painting a picture of anti-incumbency.

Rohan Gupta, the Congress’s head of social media in Gujarat, told ThePrint that “this was an effort to break the myth of BJP development, and highlight flagship programmes of the Congress such as youth employment & women’s empowerment”.

“Closer to the election, our social media strategy will be more candidate-driven. We have to make sure people put their full faith in the Congress,” he said.

In September, the party ran two major campaigns across social media with the taglines #VikasGandoThayoChe (development has gone crazy) and ‘Mara Hala Chetri Gaya’ (I have been conned).

Then, at the beginning of October, several images were shared on Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s official Twitter handle, depicting him visiting eager crowds and the shrine of Dr B.R.Ambedkar and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, with hashtags such as #GujaratNavsarjanYatra, #YuvaKisanAdhikar, and #CongressAveChe.

Through mid-October, the party has been posting videos on Facebook, articles on its blog, and tweets that attack tropes created by the media. It used #NotForSale and #AnmolGujarat in the context of allegations levelled by Patidar leader Narendra Patel that the BJP offered him a bribe of Rs 1 crore to join the party.

Gujarat elections: Decoding Congress and BJP's social media war

It also came up with slogans like #JumlonKiBaarish and #GabbarSinghTax, which were accompanied by infographic videos and clips from Rahul Gandhi’s speeches.

BJP not taking it lying down

The BJP has not been silent in the face of this onslaught. It has used its own massive following to reassure its voters that it is still relevant, and has the state’s best interests at heart.

While the BJP has also indulged in attacking its competitor, it has used a mix of two other themes – Gujarati pride, and its commitment to development.

Throughout October on Twitter, the party tweeted that the Congress has always had a negative approach to development, and highlighted ‘vikasvad vs vansvad’ (development vs dynasty).

It accused the Congress of being corrupt and attacked it for its treatment of Gujaratis.

The party has been using #Gujarat4Vikas on Twitter, and ‘I am development, I am Gujarat’ on Facebook in videos and infographics.

Gujarat elections: Decoding Congress and BJP's social media war
Of late, it has been utilising the themes of Gujaratis’ loyalty, and the ability of the government to inaugurate several schemes. For instance, an infographic on BJP’s Twitter page calls the Ro-Ro ferry service ‘Modi government’s gift to Gujarat’.

Gujarat elections: Decoding Congress and BJP's social media war
Pankaj Shukla, convener of the Gujarat BJP’s social media cell, said the party’s “strategy was geared towards rectifying and replying to the lies that have been spread by the Congress, and to tell people about the work the BJP has done in the state”.

The polls are to be held on 9 and 14 December, with the results to be declared on 18 December.

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