Soon after Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal tweeted last month that justice should be done in the Ishrat Jahan case, Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena activist Tejinder Singh Bagga started the trend #AAPExposed on Twitter.
The AAP social media team, a largely informal but committed set of volunteers, swung into action to counter the Right-wing onslaught. The party used the hashtag to promote its achievements. Within minutes, the hastags #AAPExposedRobertVadra and #AAPExposedNitinGadkari were trending on Twitter. Mr. Bagga’s strategy was hijacked by the AAP to its own benefits.
This was typical of the prompt and coordinated social media strategy of the party, in contrast to the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. The battle between the parties has shifted to Delhi, which will see Assembly elections in November.
As opposed to the Delhi units of the Congress and the BJP, which have just started making their presence felt, the AAP has 3.33 lakh followers on Facebook and around 1.35 lakh followers on Twitter. Party leader Arvind Kejriwal has over 5.4 lakh followers on Facebook and around 6 lakh on Twitter.
Social media expert and founder of Blogworks Rajesh Lalwani says: “One could argue that the AAP and Mr. Kejriwal owe their very existence to social media, emerging as they did from the Jan Lokpal movement lead by Anna Hazare.”
He says: “It was the highly polarised and frenzied debate on Facebook, Twitter and blogs that drove participation in the Anna-led movement.”
Mr. Lalwani points out that the AAP emerged from the citizenry, and remains “different” from other political parties as it is led by a motivated volunteer network.
The party claims its Twitter handle, started in February 2013, was the first of an Indian political party to be verified by the site.
A distinguishable feature of the AAP’s social media strategy is that it does not include, unlike mainstream parties, negative campaigning against other parties. Negative campaigning is one of the noticeable characteristics of Narendra Modi’s supporters online.
The party and its supporters are not part of the ‘Feku vs. Pappu’ debate, the phrase denoting the rivalry between the supporters of BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
AAP volunteer Dilip Pandey, who handles the official Twitter handle, says this “refreshingly new” strategy attracts fence sitters. “Some time ago, anti-AAP Twitter users tried to create the trend #OsamaBinKejriwal, which was of course was very offensive. It might have made the anti-AAP people happy, but it would have disgusted those who neither liked nor disliked the party but were curious about it.”
Meanwhile, other parties are still trying catch up with the AAP’s recent online success. The Delhi BJP has a modest presence on social media but is now realising its importance. The party will launch an “effective and efficient strategy” on October 5 to combine both old and new media.
The Congress is lagging behind when it comes to social media, with the ruling party largely absent from the virtual world. The party has recently engaged a group of youngsters to maintain its online presence.
Mr. Lalwani’s social media firm, Blogworks, analyses the most talked about leaders on social media every month. The firm’s August report puts Mr. Kejriwal at the fifth position, immediately after Rahul Gandhi.
Most of the comments about the AAP and Mr. Kejriwal focus on their key message of removing corruption in politics. According to Blogworks, however, the electorate wants to know the AAP’s stand on other issues such as development and the economy.
AAP leader Manish Sisodia argues that the party’s fight, both on and offline, is with the mainstream political parties and not just their Delhi units. The AAP has a national outlook, Delhi elections are just the party’s debut, he argues.
(With inputs from Sowmiya Ashok and Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar)