Chandigarh: “Kithe ne Kejriwal te Modi (where are Kejriwal and Modi),” asks an angry-looking Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, as he picks up Thor’s ‘Mjolnir’ hammer and advances menacingly towards Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi — both projected as villainous characters from the Marvel comic books and cinematic universe. Sunil Jakhar, the Congress’ in-charge of the 2022 Punjab poll campaign committee, appearing as the character Groot, hurriedly moves with ‘Thor’ Channi, even as Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Siddu —as ‘Captain America’ — joins them.
As ‘Thor’ Channi mounts an attack on ‘villains’ Modi and Kejriwal, Congress Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa, who appears as Black Panther, and senior leader Rahul Gandhi, as the Hulk, watch in glee. In one stroke of his hammer, ‘Thor’ Channi beheads and kills both Modi and Kejriwal, their severed heads joining the already-scattered heads of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Sukhbir Singh Badal and former Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh.
This is a 34-second video meme released by the Punjab Congress on its official Facebook page Monday, and is the latest in a series of digital election campaign wars that has broken out in Punjab ahead of the assembly elections scheduled to be held on 20 February.
Meanwhile, a parody of the song Dil da mamla hai dilbar from the 2007 Bollywood film Heyy Babyy, uploaded by the Aam Aadmi Party on its Facebook page on 18 January, pokes fun at the ongoing fight between Sidhu and Channi for the CM’s chair, and had crossed 7.3 lakh views by Wednesday.
With the Election Commission of India putting a ban on physical rallies and roadshows till 31 January, political parties in Punjab are doing their best to use the virtual medium to reach voters. And along with the usual pre-recorded messages, memes, videos, parodies and cartoons released on social media are being used to communicate with voters. Most of the content is in Punjabi.
Parties have also approached the state’s chief electoral officer to allow mobile video vans to tour the state to be able to reach a wider audience and carry their digital propaganda to markets, street corners and villages.
Congress’ offensive tactics
When the Punjab and Haryana High Court dismissed the anticipatory bail plea of SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia in a drug case Monday, within hours, the Congress released several videos and news compilations on its Facebook page, attacking the opposition leader for his alleged involvement with “drug dealers”.
The filing of the case against Majithia was projected as Channi’s big achievement.
Despite being in power in Punjab for the past five years, the Congress’ digital campaign so far has predominantly focussed on mounting attacks on its opponents, rather than on countering anti-incumbency sentiments.
The attack against Majithia has also included criticism of Kejriwal for the Delhi CM’s 2018 apology to the SAD leader for having levelled “unfounded” allegations against him for supposed involvement in drug trade.
In yet another video, the BJP is projected as the party that tortured and killed farmers, a reference to the now-repealed three controversial farm laws brought in by the Modi government in 2020, which had seen widespread protests.
AAP asks for a chance
AAP’s campaign is centred around showing both the SAD and the Congress in a bad light and offering itself as the solution to all problems in Punjab. A repeating feature of its campaign is the request of “Ik mauka Kejriwal nu (one opportunity to Kejriwal)”.
The party’s achievements in Delhi, where it is in power, also form part of its poll campaign in Punjab. The party has claimed credit for setting up good schools and hospitals in the national capital, videos of which are being circulated.
AAP is also making the use of animations and cartoons to communicate its message.
On Tuesday, the party launched a comic on its CM face, Bhagwant Mann’s journey, from an MP to a CM candidate.
AAP’s digital outreach teams have been busily churning out catchy slogans on social media, almost by the minute.
A few examples —
“Badal parkhe, Channi parkheya, parakh leya kaptaan, es vaari parkhange santoj vaala Mann“, which means “We have tested the Badals, we have tested Channi, we have tested the Captain, now we will try Mann, the man of patience”.
“Imandari da mazboot jor hai, eh tutega nahi… Kejriwal te Bhagwant Mann dee yaari, Punjab nu number ikk banaun dee tyaari…”. This begins with a reference to old Fevicol adhesive ads, and translates to “This is a bond of honesty which cannot be broken easily. The friendship between Mann and Kejriwal will make Punjab number one.”
“Hor leader: Saade kol paisa hai, saade kol power hai… Bhagwant Mann: Mere kol mavaan da ashirwad hai“, which means, “Other leaders: I have money, I have power… Bhagwant Mann: I have the blessings of mothers.”
When it comes to creative digital campaign, however, SAD seems to have the upper hand on its competitors.
In October, the party launched a series — ‘100 lies of Kejriwal’ — on its Facebook page. Under the campaign, the party releases one alleged lie of the Delhi CM everyday.
The 74th “lie” in the series, released Tuesday, claimed Kejriwal’s alleged self-proclaimed “achievement” of getting roads constructed and sewers laid in Delhi’s colonies was a lie.
The 73rd “lie” was Kejriwal’s alleged announcement that he will get 10-15 lakh CCTV cameras installed in Delhi. While the Delhi CM has denied having ever made this announcement, SAD has put out the “claim” with “video proof”.
The party has also launched a cartoon show, The SiyAAPa Show (siyaapa in Punjabi means problem) on Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party.
Another two-part series, titled “The Thugs of Punjab”, was released by the SAD on 7 January, targeting various Congress leaders.
The party’s digital campaign focuses mainly on painting both the Congress and the AAP as parties of outsiders, or parties that will be largely led by leaders in Delhi. It projects itself as a homegrown party which understands Punjab the most.
The digital strategy employed by the political parties is both centralised and micromanaged at the candidate level.
While Channi dominates the Congress’ digital campaign, Kejriwal and recently Bhagwant Mann are the heroes of AAP’s campaign, while SAD is banking on Sukhbir Singh Badal.
Not only are WhatsApp groups flooded with clips of their interviews and press conferences, but Channi has been eulogised in music videos that show him meeting people, attending meetings and giving speeches — projecting him as Punjab’s only hope.
Meanwhile, SAD has launched the video “Saada Veer Sukhbir” (our brother Sukhbir).
Kejriwal too had launched his own anthem for Punjab last month. However after Mann was declared the CM face of the party on 18 January, the digital focus has shifted to projecting him in a big way. Matching Channi’s style, Mann is shown as a simple politician who is happiest meeting people, sitting in a dhaba having food, and addressing crowds.
The Congress is also going micro-level, customising content for different villages and wards, and pushing these videos on WhatsApp groups in these areas.
For example, one video shows how Congress candidate Gurpreet Singh GP engaged in development work for the Badli village in his constituency, Bassi Pathana.
Finance Minister Manpreet Badal, who is the Congress candidate from Bathinda, is seen detailing his work for the area in another.
Inderbir Bolaria, the Congress candidate from Amritsar South, has launched a video just for the residents of ward number 38.
The response to these social media campaigns is mixed. Depending on the content, supporters of various parties either hail the video or trash it.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)