BJP builds WhatsApp army ahead of Karnataka polls, foot soldiers in 50,000 groups soon
The party has more than 7,000 groups now and hopes to create a network with over 50,000 WhatsApp groups in the state.
Bengaluru: Shiva’s phone is constantly buzzing due to Whats App forwards. He is a part of a Whats App group run by the Bhartiya Janata Party on which he receives daily updates from the party’s public rallies in Karnataka including videos of speeches by BJP leaders.
Shiva is not alone. Countless others like him are part of WhatsApp groups that constantly post stories highlighting the party’s successes and the opposition’s failures. This is a part of a massive campaign devised by the party’s social media cell in Bengaluru.
The groundwork for the network of BJP’s WhatsApp groups was laid in August by inviting interested party members in the social media campaign. The first step was to collect information about volunteers including basic details such as name, phone number, and village. The details of 15,000 people who registered were collected.
Over 3,500 volunteers from 224 constituencies attended the first conclave in Bengaluru in August where attendees were trained in the nuances of using Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp. These volunteers effectively became foot soldiers for the party’s WhatsApp army in the state “We taught people how to create groups on WhatsApp and also explained to them how it works and how they can add more people to it. We also discussed who should be added. We want a group of like-minded people working actively,” Balaji Srinivas, BJP Social Media Cell Convenor said.
Prashant and his team traveled all 30 districts, mobilizing cadres on the ground while also forming WhatsApp groups in each assembly. So far, the social media cell has managed to create 7,000 WhatsApp groups with an aim of creating over 50,000 WhatsApp groups, one for each booth in the state, before the state assembly elections in Karnataka next year.
With around 100-150 users in each group, the number of people in these groups has already crossed 7 lakh people. In the 2013 elections, 4.18 crore people turned out to vote in Karnataka and the IT cell is optimistic that smartphone penetration in the state has risen to 2 crore people by now.
“While it remains a challenge for us in areas like Chamarajanagar, Davangere, and Chitradurga because smartphone penetration is less but it is still increasing every day. Even if people don’t know to type, they know enough to open and see the videos we send,” said Maknur, who has personally covered 18 districts.
The social media cell divided the state into 36 districts which were further divided into assembly level and booth level units. Each of these teams at the state, district, and assembly level has 15 office bearers.
Messages broadcasted to these groups are curated specifically for each region. For instance, information about droughts is directed to North Karnataka “There are office bearers who are responsible for 2 or 3 districts. Likewise, one person from the district team is in charge for an assembly in that district,” explains Srinivas.
The messages posted on the groups are continuously monitored by the persons-in-charge, who also send information back up the grapevine that may help the party. “This is not just a messaging platform to disseminate party messages. It helps us to read people’s sentiments on the ground and since this is a completely volunteer-driven system”.
The network of WhatsApp groups also actively debunks certain news stories and propagates the BJP line. The tactic of building a massive WhatsApp network in the state is a textbook strategy of the BJP that helped the party win the 2017 Legislative Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.