Barring a few, most post updates occasionally or have vanished from the scene altogether
The former Minister and BJP political heavyweight in north Bangalore, S. Suresh Kumar, in May won the Assembly elections from Rajajinagar by a margin of 13,000 votes. The constituency has around 2.2 lakh registered voters and while there's no data on the percentage of the population digitally active, the sizeable number of educated and middle-class people here indicates that a good number of them are online, and by extension, on social media.
A much-talked-about study on the impact of social media on elections, conducted by the Iris Knowledge Foundation last year, extrapolated similar data and claimed social media had a definitive impact on Indian politics. Going by the methodology adopted in this study, one can safely assume that in a constituency such as Rajajinagar, a margin of 13,000 votes can easily be bridged using social media.
OFF THE WAGON
Though the debate on whether social media impacts electoral choices is just beginning, Karnataka’s politicians — who had enthusiastically taken to new media to reach out to newer, younger and more tech-savvy audiences during the recent elections— appear to have fallen off the social media bandwagon. Barring a few politicians who have managed to keep the conversation alive on these sites, most have either slowed down the pace of their updates or have vanished from the scenealtogether. This, despite the fact that the Lok Sabha elections will soon be upon us.
Even Mr. Suresh Kumar, who was among the more active and responsive politicians online, barely updates his official Facebook page. Others from his party such as Arvind Limbavali and Ananth Kumar do better at using social media to maintain voter connect. Most survive on updates and photographs posted by party workers or supporters.
In the ruling camp, Agriculture Minister Krishna Byre Gowda stands out for his regular updates on topics pertaining to his Ministry, with the occasional comment on tennis, telegrams and agriculture. Priya Krishna, MLA, engages with his supporters on Facebook by linking news stories or imploring people to take up civic activities such as segregating garbage. However, neither has been able to truly exploit the potential of the medium by conversing with followers.
Interestingly, the official party accounts of both the BJP and Congress are far more active and consistent. In this respect, Opposition party Janata Dal (Secular) strikes a different note. Their focus appears to be on their website, which is more interactive than the others, with many widgets and a forum where people can get questions answered. JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy has two Twitter accounts, which together have just 900 followers.
Naveen Gowda of the JD(S) IT Cell, says that while the party wants to use technology, it has decided to use emails, blogs and phone calls to build a connect. “Social media is not everything. We’re doing live blogs on our site; using inventories and then giving it a personal twist by getting Mr. Kumaraswamy to follow up with a call. That’s direct impact.” He said they wanted to increase Kannada content as their audience “isn’t English exclusively.”
‘THIS ISN’T A PADAYATRA’
Meanwhile, the BJP’s 12-member IT cell is preparing to conduct training sessions to get leaders up and running on social media. Channa Mallikarjun, who heads the cell, concedes that after the Assembly polls, there has been a dip in enthusiasm. “We, being familiar with the medium, try to tell them that this isn’t like a pre-election padayatra. Here people expect constant engagement; it’s demanding but it will pay off.”
The ‘party with a difference’, he claims, is the only one to issue guidelines to members and representatives on using social media. And a “complete no-no” as far as any supporter of the BJP is concerned is online abuse or derogatory content about adversaries, says Mr. Mallikarjun.
‘HARD TO BELIEVE’
Congress sources from its IT team say it’s difficult to believe BJP has a policy to discourage personal insults. In fact, they say it is the “defamatory, even vulgar content” on social media that led the Congress to jump in last year. “The Congress was almost absent online till 2010. But after Rahul Gandhi’s call to reclaim this space, we started our State committee account.” The source concedes that politicians have slowed down on social media. "But, even if they aren't able to update regularly, we keep the ball rolling on the party accounts."
FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH
Agriculture Minister Krishna Byregowda concedes that currently a lot of activity on social media is "event related, like closer to an election". "But I think in the long term, since this is likely to be a prominent medium people will be forced to take social media more seriously and engage with it in a more continuous basis." He believes that social media primarily presents politicians like him an opportunity to engage with a demographic, otherwise distanced from the political process. Tejaswini Ananth Kumar, who helps BJP Member of Parliament Ananth Kumar handle his social media accounts, feels that social media can make a "substantial impact" in a city, where many potential voters are or social media. She points out that her husband was the first Indian politician to start a website for himself in 1997. "We moved to social media later because it provided a more direct and immediate connect, and everyone was on it. She says that some politicians currently find it challenging because English is the predominant language of the medium. "This will change. And once they get on to it, they'll see the benefits it offers."