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E-bandwagon-Bihar parties take fight to ‘virtual media’, following BJP and AAP’s success

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social-media-585481_640Impressed by the tremendous political benefits reaped by BJP and AAP due to high-voltage social media and high-end digital campaigning in the 2014 Lok Sabha and Delhi assembly elections respectively, Bihar parties too are eagerly jumping on to the e-bandwagon.

All the major parties – Janata Dal -United (JD-U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Hindustani Awam Morcha – are making efforts to make their presence felt on the net for the forthcoming Bihar election. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is also expected to shift its well oiled cyber machine to Bihar soon.

From interactive graphical representation of the work done by their parties and making promises on Facebook to sending interactive and informative messages on WhatsApp, they are doing it all to woo voters. “It’s the best way to engage the youth and first time voters. We have set up a ‘war room’ to ensure that we remain ahead of our rivals in digital campaigning,” K.C Tyagi, chief spokesperson of JD-U, told IANS over phone.

“We have seen how Prime Minister Narendra Modi quite effectively used the social media and high-tech campaigning in the 2014 elections to ride to power at the centre,” he added. According to Bihar’s information and technology department, an estimated 5 lakh out of the state’s total population of 110 million use the internet on computers while 20 to 30 million use it on mobile phones.

Tyagi says the 2014 general elections changed the way elections were fought in India. Although the tech-savvy campaign brought rich dividents for the BJP, he says it also raised the overall cost of fighting elections.

Abdul Bari Siddiqui of RJD, who is also leader of the opposition in the Bihar assembly, says that although the reach of social media among Bihar’s population was limited, yet one cannot “deny it’s positive and long-lasting effect on the public mind.”

Talking on the phone, Siddiqui said digital campaigning involved hiring of tech experts, setting up of media rooms and manning them round-the-clock.

Under the JD-U’s ‘war room’ strategy, 400 trucks equipped with TV sets, music systems, microphones and speakers will move from village to village and showcase the government’s achievements. The personnel manning these vehicles will also interact with villagers and their local representatives to get their ideas and suggestions for Bihar’s development in future.

Flash mobs and street plays are also being planned by JD-U to gain the support of the younger generation, which is expected to play a crucial role in the legislative elections expected to be held in September or October this year.

Parties opposed to the JD-U have started Facebook pages to engage people on the social media in the run-up to the polls.

So apart from the traditional methods like high-pitch sloganeering, colourful buntings, posters and large hoardings to grab the eyeballs of the Bihar electorate, e-campaigning will add more punch to the campaigning by political parties aiming to win a majority in the state assembly.

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AAP’S Media Spend Is Four Times That Of Previous Government: RTI Reply

A 2017 Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report found that the Delhi government had spent 86 percent of the total budget for its media campaign celebrating the completion of AAP's one year in power in 2016

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Picture of Arvind Kejriwal addressing a rally. Wikimedia Commons
  • The average annual expenditure of the AAP government on advertisements from April 2015 to December 2017 was Rs 70.5 crore
  • The AAP government’s spending on advertisements increased by about 300 percent compared to the Congress government
  • A 2017 Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report found that the Delhi government had spent 86 percent of the total budget for its media campaign celebrating the completion of AAP’s one year in power in 2016

The AAP government has spent an average of Rs 70.5 crore annually in the past three years on advertisements — four times more than the previous government’s expenditure on print, electronic and outdoor advertising, according to an RTI reply.

In the first year after assuming office in February 2015, the current government spent Rs 59.9 crore on advertisements, Rs 66.3 crore the next year and Rs 85.3 crore up to December 31, 2017, the Directorate of Information and Publicity (DIP) said in reply to an RTI application by IANS.

The average annual expenditure of the AAP government on advertisements from April 2015 to December 2017 was Rs 70.5 crore. The Congress’ average was Rs 17.4 crore in the last five years of its rule (2008-2013).

Also Read: AAP welcomes BJP’s stand on inter-faith marriages

According to the DIP, the expenditure includes, among others, advertisements with photos of the Chief Minister and other ministers in newspapers and hoardings, commercial spots on TV and radio, and tender notices published in newspapers.

For instance, when the AAP government completed its first and second anniversary in 2016 and 2017, leading newspapers in the capital carried full-page advertisements, highlighting the achievements of the government.

The Delhi government approached the High Court and the matter is currently pending there. Wikimedia Commons
The Delhi government approached the High Court and the matter is currently pending there. Wikimedia Commons

In the run-up to celebrating its three years in office, the government in the first two weeks of February carried advertisements flashing pictures of the Chief Minister or other ministers. The highlights included the inauguration of community toilets, excellence awards distribution for students, a government meeting on “smart gaon”, and invitation of applications for scholarship schemes.

The AAP government’s spending on advertisements increased by about 300 percent compared to the Congress government.

Also Read: Blow for Kejriwal: EC recommends disqualification of 20 AAP MLAs

But the average advertisement rate charged by a leading English newspaper, comparing the Congress government and AAP government periods, has increased by about 17 percent, according to DAVP.

For the same period, the average rate charged by another leading English newspaper has increased by about 35 percent.

A 2017 Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report found that the Delhi government had spent 86 percent of the total budget for its media campaign celebrating the completion of AAP’s one year in power in 2016.

According to the DIP, the expenditure includes, among others, advertisements with photos of the Chief Minister and other ministers in newspapers and hoardings, commercial spots on TV and radio, and tender notices published in newspapers. Wikimedia Commons
According to the DIP, the expenditure includes, among others, advertisements with photos of the Chief Minister and other ministers in newspapers and hoardings, commercial spots on TV and radio, and tender notices published in newspapers. Wikimedia Commons

The auditor pulled up the government for using the name of the party in the advertisements.

Last year, the government came under an opposition attack after Lt. Governor Anil Baijal asked the AAP to cough up Rs 97 crore spent on advertisements, allegedly to promote the party instead of the government. The LG order was based on a report by the Committee on Content Regulation in Government Advertising (CCRGA).

Also Read: 5 Years of AAP: How Society Has Been Backstabbed by ChandaChor Kejriwal

The regulatory authority asked the Delhi government to assess the expenditure in issuing “those advertisements/advertorials in which the name of the Aam Aadmi Party is mentioned” and other factors.

The Delhi government approached the High Court and the matter is currently pending there.

Delhi government spokesperson Nagendar Sharma said he has “no comments” to offer on the increase in expenditure.

The auditor pulled up the government for using the name of the party in the advertisements. Wikimedia Commons
The auditor pulled up the government for using the name of the party in the advertisements. Wikimedia Commons

Delhi Congress President Ajay Maken said: “They (AAP) are using the power of advertisements to put pressure on TV (channels) and newspapers. They are doing it ruthlessly”.

BJP MLA and Delhi Assembly Leader of Opposition Vijender Gupta termed the government’s spending on advertisements as “irrational”. “Misuse of public money in this way is completely unjustified and unethical,” Gupta told IANS. (IANS)