This is a guest post by Kaveri Mishra, Research Scholar at SRM University Chennai, in which she digs deep to find the impact of social media in the recent Karnataka State Assembly elections.
The use of social media in politics, though a relatively new trend in India, has created a lot of ‘buzz’. Interesting movements were witnessed in the recent May 5th, 2013 Karnataka Assembly Elections. All political parties made their presence felt on social media through established IT cells, as part of the election preparations to manage accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube videos and so on.
The role and usage of social media as seen in the Karnataka elections, was limited to the urban, tech savvy youth. The real challenge of political leaders was to reach out to the rural population who are the real voters, who can be influenced by caste, economic, social and cultural factors to strike a chord and many a times change their opinion under the influence of money, liquor, goodies that often play a vital role.
Naresh Kaushik, an IT professional from Mysore in his mid-thirties, has not bothered to vote in the last three elections. He wished to vote this time because of the corruption and inability of the previous government to bring in any change. But he was frustrated and disappointed when he visited the polling booth as his name was not in the voters’ list. Official website, SMS and various other means of connectivity failed or did not come handy for him to facilitate his voting.
Arif said, a family member who has seen the ups and downs of politics and currently working with a leading IT MNC that was overseeing the campaigning activities of MLA Tanveer Sait, said that he has been a witness to over three decades of State politics. It has become tougher and harder reaching to the right voter.
Talking about social media, he says “It is a platform that belongs to the educated and technologically connected urban population and definitely not a medium of the masses for the masses. In politics the greatest challenge for any party leader is to connect to the people. Elections make people more and more demanding, striking the right chord is vital; moreover the righteous voters are not the ones hooked onto social media.”
In fact, the role played by the Election Commission, various public groups, NGOs and citizens’ initiatives to create awareness and a movement for empowerment of democracy, resulted in a higher voter turnout and 72% polling for the first time in Karnataka.
Kaveesh Gowda, campaign manager and son of Congress leader and former mayor Vasu who won by a margin of 12,915 votes, said that social media had minimal impact on his campaigning strategy. According to him, most of the Facebook users don’t turn out to be potential voters; on the election day most of them failed to vote. That’s the irony - reaching out to the rural population of Karnataka through social media is impossible and is restricted to the IT savvy urban youth.
A former senior journalist with Deccan Herald, Niranjan Nikam, who has covered Karnataka Elections previously is of the opinion that social media in Karnataka assembly elections has no major role to play in deciding the fate of the candidates. Social media can create awareness; it leads to an open, interactive political culture but to expect any concrete political gains at this moment might be too premature.
Professor Karuna Kaushik, JSS University, opines that sandalwood stars, celebrity and social activists play a bigger and wider role to influence the voters than the social media. Most of the time, Facebook users are logged in to blow their own trumpet rather than read and think over some serious issues, and in a democracy active participation in elections is more important than posting comments on Facebook and following on Twitter.
Niranjan Rao, Chairman of KPCC, IT Cell is of the opinion that social media connects only to the elite urban youngsters who are connected either on smart phones or have access to the internet at homes and work places. Elections are not similar to organizing a rally or an event. For political parties to be connected to social media and being active round the clock, involves costs and it is an investment and a long term strategy that should be done not just for simplistic political gains, but because it’s a listening post to tap into the aspirations of the young.
Divakar Manju, an IT Professional working for an MNC, says Karnataka is in a political turmoil with most of the leaders hailing from and representing the rural population. Most of the social media sites are managed by professionals as very few leaders have the time during elections to log on and be constantly connected with their gadgets for updates. It will take many more years for this to be witnessed uniformly in the Indian political system.
Keerthi Kiran Kakubal, a young lawyer, strongly believes that it will take at least two decades for social media to have a stronger say in democratic processes. It is not the number of likes and tweets that will determine the probability of victory of a candidate but his ability to engage with the electorate.
Assuming that social media will be a major deciding factor is a ridiculous proposition at this point of time in India. As Niranjan puts it rightly - social media is an investment and a long term strategy that should be done not just for simplistic political gains, but because it’s a listening post to tap into the aspirations of the young.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above belong to the author and not necessarily represent that of Lighthouse Insights.