Political parties’ online armies: How digital campaigning looks like today 2022
Political parties’ online armies: What digital campaigning looks like today
AAP uses anti-corruption campaigns and populist issues to garner followers on social media if BJP’s IT Cell is driven by polarizing religious content and Hindutva themes.
The ruling Trinamool Congress party in West Bengal has begun recruiting recruits for its online army ahead of the 2021 legislative assembly elections. In West Bengal, where cadre-based, booth-level workers constitute the backbone of state politics, shifting the focus from regular recruiting to recruitment for individuals to work online was a unique notion.
The rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party as the dominant Opposition in the formerly Left-dominated state was the fundamental cause for this transition. In 2020, rumours surfaced of the party inducting over 50,000 young members into its internet army to counter the BJP’s virtual clout.
The BJP was one of India’s first national parties to recognize and harness the power of new digital platforms. The BJP’s “IT Cell” is fueled by a committed army of online fighters who work around the clock to ensure that the party and its leaders maintain a positive online image.
In past interviews, senior members of the IT Cell have said that personnel with technical backgrounds were recruited more aggressively. The majority of the party’s internet presence is “initiated” by the members. The party was one of the first to take advantage of the social media craze.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi predicted in 2017 that the 2019 elections would be “fought over the phone.” The BJP allegedly used data from constituency profiles produced by IT gurus utilizing data analysis to identify major electoral problems in the 2018 Tripura campaign.
Several parties held digital rallies in compliance with the Election Commission’s COVID-19 standards for the 2022 legislative assembly elections.
In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP enlisted the help of its “virtual troops” to spread the word. Members of the IT Cell guaranteed round-the-clock social media monitoring and surveillance of local voters’ phones via campaign SMSs and public opinion via effective online initiatives.
Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army, journalist Swati Chaturvedi detailed the BJP’s digital setup. While many of the cadres were unpaid “trolls,” according to Chaturvedi, many were paid “trolls.” Chaturvedi compared a politically motivated online troll assault to a raging mob, writing that such attacks can propagate disinformation on a large scale and foment community hatred.
The internet movement has progressed well beyond political politics, and it is now issuing threats to dissenters, such as artists, filmmakers, and authors.
The internet has ushered in a new era of political parties
While the BJP may have had an early advantage, other political parties now recognize the value of internet cadres. While the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC in West Bengal began cultivating “Jubo Joddhas” (young fighters) using WhatsApp groups to locate local leadership, the Aam Aadmi Party has also been leveraging social media with a network of devoted employees.
AAP’s internet staff, like the BJP’s, is made up of people who aren’t members of the party but share its ideology and goal. The AAP employs anti-corruption campaigns and populist concerns to garner followers on social media, while the BJP’s IT Cell is fueled by polarizing religious content and a Hindutva drive.
In Punjab, the AAP used social media to effectively combat claims of fostering “Hindu dread” and “Sikh extremism.” They also made use of Punjabi web channels.
Despite this, Congress has remained a tiny social media presence. Sonia Gandhi, the Congress’s leader, claimed in March 2022 that social media was being used to “hack democracy.” Despite various social media tactics, like Rahul Gandhi’s appearances on YouTube cookery shows, the Congress party has struggled to grab the digital imagination.
A simple comparison of the party’s Twitter followers indicates a significant disparity. The BJP has almost 18 million followers on its official national account, whereas the Congress has only 8 million. With 6 million members, the AAP is quickly catching up.
After Donald Trump, PM Modi is the second most-followed politician on Twitter. On social media, he also follows regular folks who express outspoken support for the BJP. Many of them have already been accused of disseminating false information and hatred.
In April of this year, Facebook shut down 700 pages allegedly maintained by supporters of both the Congress and the BJP. These websites were disseminating false information and offensive material.
Misinformation campaigns led by online cadres have become increasingly popular on social media. Parties are also making extensive use of messaging platforms such as WhatsApp to disseminate their ideology and propaganda. The internet world has the potential to strengthen democracy, but it also poses a threat.
RJD Should reappraise party Cadres
Besides acting as an intermediary between parties and the masses, political cadres aid in decentralizing democracy at the grassroots.
However, we must keep in mind that India’s political history, which dates back to the first General Elections in 1952, involves the rise and collapse of several political parties. Political observers hastily write obituaries for some political groupings, only to be forced to eat their words when these parties resurface with renewed vigour and prominence.
Before people-based coalitions became a significant feature of India’s political centre, it was formed out of a heated nationalist movement. Political parties are under a lot of pressure to satisfy various interests, and, as British lawyer and liberal politician James Bryce put it, they have to organize the chaotic public will. However, the actual kernel of these parties may be found in their unofficial formations.
The public’s trust, which translates into electoral votes, is earned via prolonged political mobilization. “Unofficial” party organizations play a crucial role in this and guarantee grassroots democracy’s predominance.
Cadres’ primary responsibilities include:
- Carrying out party goals on a local level.
- Reporting to higher-ups in the party structure.
- Gaining support for the local candidate.
- Organizing community events and organizations.
When the party is no longer in power, cadres take on the role of grassroots activity and distributing information about the party. Cadres are primarily underpaid in India and voluntarily dedicate their time and energy to party activity. Close affinity to an ideology is an underlying trait of these employees, and they link themselves with it.
A robust network is required for a fascinating story to permeate people’s imagination. Support is needed on the ground to sustain relevance and appeal. This is precisely what the BJP has accomplished, but it remains a peculiar case. The RSS provides the majority of its cadre support. Many scholars tend to agree that the BJP’s reign has resulted in more fundamental changes in how democracy operates and is understood.
The BJP has profited politically from RSS activists’ activities, but it has no control over them. True, the party has strived to cultivate its cadres from its founding, but its mohalla (street) network was not stable or widespread enough throughout vast swaths of India until the early 2000s. As a result, it relied on Sangh cadres for voter mobilization during elections for decades, which had its own set of issues.
The divide between India’s electoral democracy and liberal democracy is widening, most visible at the grassroots level. Because of a political machine that was miles ahead of its competition in terms of organizational foundation and material resources, the BJP could project Modi as a leader with credible credentials and deliver subtle messages of nationalism to different target audiences to deflect the opposition.
Even after demonetization, the migrant problem, unemployment, and rising inflation, they successfully kept the BJP relevant. What’s more alarming is that they’ve also succeeded in repackaging the fictions of faith, culture, and morality for use in politics.
On the contrary, the Indian National Congress has recently battled with several difficulties and has lost public support. We must not forget that Congress lacks a strong cadre basis and does not have a radical political philosophy. In Congress, party employees are more likely to be loyal to confident leaders than to the party’s doctrine or the party itself. In India’s most populous states, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Bengal, the party is almost non-existent.
It is also virtually non-existent in southern states like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The high command mindset, which previously decided party affairs at the national and state levels, has now spread to local groups with no ties to party workers on the ground. Today, the party lacks a strong leader and a functional organization, and the BJP has taken over its ideological goal of leftist-welfarist programs for the poor.
To defeat the BJP, Congress must rethink its ideological mission and welcome newcomers into the party. It must focus on building a progressive platform that grabs people’s attention and sends a substantially different message from the BJP’s linguistic approach. The party can also be resurrected by rebuilding its grassroots organization, repopulating its cadre with foot-soldiers and flag-bearers, and establishing realistic goals for a future electoral comeback.
With Data Entrepreneurs Offering Parties To Handle Work Previously Done By Their Cadres, There Is Little Space Left For Cadres To Feel Motivated These Days.
Left-wing parties, too, rely heavily on their cadre basis. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (CPI), for example, each have their own pockets of influence among workers, peasants, college students, and other sections of the public, as well as a dedicated cadre base, to carry out an election campaign.
In Indian politics, Communist parties have a history of fielding candidates from the grassroots, which is unusual. They participate in every party program before, during, and after the elections, from canvassing for votes to collecting campaign contributions. Unlike other parties, where second-tier leaders pay for candidates, communist parties require local candidates to pay a security deposit.
Cadres’ presence at the grassroots is critical in promoting democracy via collective leadership and individual accountability. Under the leadership of Tejashwi Yadav, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has grasped the need to capture the youth’s imagination by engaging the public and addressing vital problems.
RJD is strengthening its party’s organization by expanding its social media infrastructure and enlisting the help of local youth to address local concerns. RJD is also attempting to persuade its proactive cadres to advocate for democratic, collective leadership. RJD recognizes the need to mobilize political resources for marginalized groups and that ground presence is required to convert these voices into political action.
The data and professionalization of election administration are two significant factors that have yet to get a more serious examination. Several operators often approach political parties and candidates with their data sets, analytical models, and various other services, promising to manage a variety of political tasks typically performed by cadres, such as constituent interaction, strategizing, and mobilization.
This large-scale takeover—or, as I like to call it, data entrepreneurs’ colonization of politics—has further marginalized cadres and spontaneous grassroots work. When elections can be conducted and won from ‘war rooms,’ and cadres are just obliged to follow a pre-determined plan, there is little room for cadres to improve their talents or even feel motivated to associate themselves with certain parties, programs, and ideologies.
Political cadres and widespread involvement are critical instruments for teaching and recruiting new political leaders, such as women and young people who have never held a political post. Citizens have a greater chance of participating in public life because of the lower levels of democracy. Residents have the opportunity to question local leaders, observe their actions, express their concerns and interests, and learn democratic citizenship skills and principles.
However, we must not confine the tasks of cadres to electoral victories. The informal cadre network is a critical connection in maintaining decentralized activity and democracy. Otherwise, history is littered with examples of democracy dying when the strengthening of democracy was hampered by a failure to recognize the crucial role played by the cadres.