News / Science & Technology

Social Media Played Big Role in India’s Election

FILE - India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes his oath at the presidential palace in New Delhi May 26, 2014
FILE - India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes his oath at the presidential palace in New Delhi May 26, 2014
The sweeping victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recent Indian elections has been attributed to factors ranging from slowing economic growth to high levels of corruption.

But for the first time in the country’s history, social media played an important role, according to analysts who are calling the vote India’s first "social media elections."

"The social media effect was huge for the BJP. … They really understood that social media is an extended version of the campaign trail," said Michael Kugelman, a senior program associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

The Facebook candidate

By the time he was sworn in as prime minister, Narendra Modi had more than 16 million "likes" on Facebook, the second most for any politician in the world, and he was the sixth most followed world leader on Twitter.
Taken From FacebookTaken From Facebook
Taken From Facebook
Taken From Facebook

Modi’s popularity carried the BJP to victory with 282 seats out of the 543 seats in parliament, the biggest win by any party in India in 40 years.

Through its use of social media, the BJP was able to sway many young voters. And while official numbers on the youth vote have yet to be tallied, the BJP clearly won the contest for India’s young voters.

"What we do know from exit polling data is that if you look at demographic support for the BJP in particular, the BJP dominated the Congress when it came to younger voters," said Milan Vaishnav, an associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

For the BJP, getting young votes meant harnessing the power of social media.

"We saw a trend, we read this trend, where the youth of the country were embracing social media as their first tool when they started using the internet, and we made sure our presence was there," said Arvind Gupta, who as head of BJP’s IT division led the party's social media campaign.

Gupta said BJP's social media campaign was one of the most important factors in its victory. He said social media affected 30 to 40 percent of the overall seats, a number he said could go up to 60 percent by the 2019 general elections.

In many constituencies, social media was amongst the top three communication tools, overtaking traditional methods such as advertisements, he added.

The importance of social media is underscored by the almost 74 million Internet users in the country, a 31 percent increase from March 2012 to March 2013, according to "India Digital Future in Focus." The report was published by comScore Inc., a U.S. company that measures digital usage.

The same report said 75 percent of India’s online population was younger than the age of 35, significantly younger than in other BRIC countries.

"Politicians realized that social media is not a couple of kids talking about fashion, but actually people talking about serious things," said Mandakini Devasher Surie, a senior program officer at the Asia Foundation.

Social media as a campaign tool

"Standard tools like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and then lately WhatsApp - I think these, from a social media perspective, were the pillars of our strategy," Gupta said.

One of the most interesting uses of social media was when the BJP crowd-sourced its manifesto, with hundreds of thousands of people using Twitter and blogs to comment.

"A lot of those suggestions were actually incorporated in our manifesto," Gupta said.

The BJP used a two-pronged approach to social media: increase its online presence while also helping in its offline activities.

In a program called "organize online to assist offline," the BJP used the reach of social media to recruit volunteers, eventually enlisting 2.2 million, Gupta said.

"Twitter by Modi"

For many Indians, it started with the use of Twitter by Modi, who gained millions of followers during the election campaign, according to Kugelman.

"Mr. Modi himself reached out through his Twitter account to the youth of the country, appealing to what the youth are looking for: jobs, security and the use of technology," said Nilotpal Chakravarti, the associate vice president of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).

The social media campaigns by the BJP, and also by the anti-corruption Aam Admi Party (AAP), which made an impressive showing in the 2013 Delhi assembly elections, helped "define the media narrative."

It created "key messages and talking points" that were then picked up by the mainstream media, said Vaishnav, who is with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

This meant the BJP was able to create a narrative that the Indian National Congress party - which had been in power for the past 10 years but only managed to win 44 seats this election - was “out of sync” with the common Indian, while Modi was more in tune with a population where the median age is 26, according to Vaishnav.

He added that Twitter and Facebook helped break down information barriers between politicians and voters, allowing them to better understand the candidates and the issues they were promoting.

While Gupta, the BJP’s IT leader, believes that social media played an important role in the BJP’s victory, he acknowledged it’s only a part of the overall strategy.

"Where we differed from both the Congress and AAP is that they didn’t have the base content, they didn’t have the base leadership, they didn’t have the base policy and performance record we had," he added.

"You’re not going to win an election only by depending on your social media presence," said Kugelman, from the Woodrow Wilson Center.

He pointed to AAP and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in Pakistan, political parties that had a strong social media presence but couldn't convert that into votes because of a lack of national presence.

"The type of messaging and the target messaging, and the agenda on which the election was fought, won them the election rather than social media alone," said Bharath Gopalaswamy, deputy director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.

Tools to govern
While the election campaign may be over, the BJP’s use of social media will continue, according to Gupta.

"We need to use it more constructively… making sure that what the government is doing is being communicated in a very transparent, real time manner and seeking feedback if something needs to be corrected," said Gupta.

One option put forward is for the different ministries to have their own Facebook and Twitter pages for better two way communication and to act as a tool for engagement, said Chakraveti, who is with IAMAI.

It should be used as a tool for citizen engagement, and the Prime Minister’s Twitter account could be used by Modi to take suggestions from stakeholders and gage their response, he added.

Urban India had 78 million social media users in June 2013. The number rose to 91 million by December 2013, indicating the growing importance of social media, according to the IAMAI report "Social Media in India - 2013."

The potential use of social media to improve transparency could work in the BJP’s favor, said Kugelman, adding that voters in India and other countries complain "that they don’t really know" what a party's or politician's priorities and objectives are.

“So if the BJP could continue to use social media as a major platform for communicating its ideas and goals," Kugelman said, "then I think that’s definitely a good thing.”

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Maliha Hussain from: Oakville. ON
June 09, 2014 3:15 PM
A good read with some very interesting facts and numbers! Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf that had a strong social media and national presence did convert into votes but massive rigging nulled them

by: VG from: Bhavnagar, Gujarat
June 08, 2014 2:09 PM
A question in my mind is this: did voters' rational thinking or emotions and feelings bring Modi to power?

India is a country of more young peoples than perhaps any other country in the world; it is a fashionable thing in India to follow someone or have followers; more followers one has, the more popular one is.

However, how many of these people do comprehensive reading, critical thinking, and analyzing before expressing themselves on social media. I doubt sound bites and 140-character messages would ever produce leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Lincoln etc.

Here is something to ponder: the BJP got 282 seats; and of these seats, 239 came from 14 states, meager 32 came from the remaining 14 states, and the rest from the union territories and capital Delhi.
In Response

by: skt from: columbus
June 08, 2014 10:18 PM
well said !

by: Adil from: Toronto
June 08, 2014 1:12 PM
It seems like the BJP really took advantage of the growing influence of social media during the election campaign. Although there is no doubt that Congress was punished by the voters for its dismal economic performance, the effective use of social media did play a critical role in delivering BJP such a huge majority. It is important to remember though that there needs to be support for the political party at the grassroots level for them to successfully translate the social media campaigning into tangible votes.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs