TRI­NAMOOL MASTER OF THE IN­TER­NET UNI­VERSE, LEFT ADAPTS SLOWLY

The Economic Times - - Saturday Feature - Mad­hu­parna Das

The Left, which has been rather slow in adopt­ing new tools, is get­ting a foot in the so­cial me­dia door, ap­ing what has been hap­pen­ing on the other side of the po­lit­i­cal isle in Ben­gal.

“Achha balun to… Congress joter darker chilo ki? Je tuku chilo..tao sekh kare dilen “(Do you re­ally think that there was a need for an al­liance with Congress? What­ever lit­tle bit we had as Left­ists, you de­stroyed that too), posted a Face­book user dur­ing the live chat con­ducted by CPM’s Ben­gal sec­re­tary Sur­jya Kanta Mishra. It is a top­ics which Mishra, leader of the Op­po­si­tion, is be­lieved to be un­happy about, but in the realm of so­cial me­dia, such ques­tions are bound to crop up.

In an­other Face­book p o s t , Cha nd i d a s Ma­jhi , aka Chan­di­das Baul, from Birb­hum says, “We were very poor, but now we can earn our liveli­hood by us­ing our ta­lent. Ear­lier, there was no scope for us. Now, we the Baul (folk mu­sic) artists get a monthly al­lowance from the state govern­ment and get a chance to per­form in govern­ment pro­grammes. We are smil­ing now. Ben­gal is smil­ing.” This is not part of a live Face­book chat. This is a short film that nar­rates the story of Ma­jhi, a sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian folk artist. It is among the 21 short films pro­duced by the Tri­namool Cong ress to pro­mote its schemes. The f i l ms were posted to its of­fi­cial web­site, Twit­ter han­dle of the party and its Face­book page.

In the 2014 Gen­eral elec­tion, the so­cial me­dia strate­gies of the main po­lit­i­cal par­ties was rou­tine, pre­dictable and cau­tious. This polls sea­son, they look more in­no­va­tive in spread­ing the mes­sage.

T he r u l i n g T r i n a mool Congress ap­pears to be on top of the game in the state. Party leader Ma­mata Ban­er­jee has a full-fledged cy­ber army. The party has been re­leas­ing short films of 5-15 min­utes length ev­ery day, doc­u­ment­ing peo­ple’s suc­cess sto­ries which they at­tribute to govern­ment schemes. Th­ese are an­chored or pre­sented by Tol­ly­wood ac­tors. A new hash tag, cre­ated by the party for the short film is -- #RealBen­gal. And with ev­ery other post, the party is us­ing #AITCWin­ning.

Tri­namool Congress is also the first party in the state that has ex­per­i­mented with live chat on Face­book. Af­ter the Narada sting op­er­a­tion and the f ly­over col­lapse, speak­ing to the elec­torate through a live chat was not at all an easy task for Ben­gal Chief Min­is­ter Ban­er­jee. ‘Didi’, who in 2012 had stormed out from a live talk show or­gan­ised by a na­tional chan­nel when asked a not-so-happy ques­tion, main­tained her cool and let pass all con­tro­ver­sial ques­tions dur­ing the live chat. This is not sur­pris­ing as she has much at stake. She is now aim­ing for a sec­ond stint in Ben­gal and finds her­self in a chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tion with new po­lit­i­cal equa­tions emerg­ing.

The Com­mu­nist party, which has so far shunned so­cial fo­rums as be­ing “bour­geoisie” tools, is now re­think­ing its In­ter­net stance, at least when it comes to state elec­tions. The Left has been pretty ac­tive in re­cent times through Face­book, Twit­ter, What­sApp groups and other mes­sen­ger ser­vices. The party fol­lowed Ban­er­jee’s foot­steps in some cases too. For in­stance, the Left Front’s chief min­is­te­rial can­di­date, Sur­jya Kanta Mishra, par­tic­i­pated in a FB live chat.

The Com­mu­nists are send­ing small clips to its grass­roots work­ers and sup­port­ers for cir­cu­la­tion. The clips de­pict the al­leged ‘tor­tur­ous rule’ of Tri­namool Congress. One such clip shows gory images of mur­dered CPM cadres with num­bers flash­ing on the screen —48,567 peo­ple evicted, 171 mur­ders—and a voiceover that says, “TMC is an­other name of ter­ror and vi­o­lence”.

For the CPM, their strug­gle to sur­vive is forc­ing them to catch up with the trend. The party is in touch with its grass­roots cadres through What­sApp. “We have formed district and zonal What­sApp groups. This is an easy method to reach peo­ple,” said a leader work­ing in Jun­glema­hal.

In other changes, some se­nior CPM com­rades can be seen mov­ing around with Ap­ple de­vices, gen­er­ally con­sid­ered as sym­bols of af­flu­ence. When a top party leader was asked about the two phones he was car­ry­ing, he said the iPhone was given by the party. The same re­sponse came from an­other party MP who was us­ing an iPhone and an Ap­ple watch.

Ac­cord­ing to a party worker, the CPM has given some Ap­ple de­vices to some se­nior com­rades. The use an iPhone is be­ing ques­tioned as it is seen as a sign of con­sumerism in­jected by Com­mu­nist’s arch ri­val Amer­ica. For the peo­ple of Ben­gal, the sight of dhoti-kurta-clad com­rades us­ing iPhones is, of course, an un­usual one. CPM leader Mo­ham­mad Salim, how­ever, ex­plained, “I do not have an Ap­ple de­vice. I am talk­ing over a Sam­sung mo­bile. Some of our com­rades who are into good pro­fes­sion use Ap­ple de­vices. But it is their choice, not the party’s.”

De­scrib­ing the evo­lu­tion, CPM p a r l i a me n t a r i a n Mo­ham­mad Salim told ET, “Com­mu­nists have al­ways en­cour­aged the new me­dia, but the is­sue was af­ford­abil­ity; we did not have the lux­ury to waste re­sources. But, this time, we have de­vel­oped our own cy­ber team. The young cadres were trained at dis­tric­tand state-level work­shops. Thou­sands of th­ese young and in­no­va­tive minds are work­ing to strengthen the cy­ber cam­paign. Like other par­ties, we did not hire any agency. Ear­lier, it was a class is­sue, and now it is a mass is­sue. We are us­ing the cost-ef­fec­tive mo­bile­based ap­pli­ca­tions to reach the elec­torate di­rectly.”

On the short films and TMC’s so­cial me­dia cam­paigns, he said, “There should be con­tent for cam­paign. We have a po­lit­i­cal con­tent. But the rul­ing party has huge cash in hand and peo­ple with deep pock­ets. They have many rich film pro­duc­ers, ac­tors, ad-mak­ers in their party fold. So, they are spend­ing.”

Not to be left be­hind, the BJP too has set up a me­dia war room. It has also brought ve­hi­cles with au­dio and video fa­cil­i­ties run­ning to re­mote vil­lages with clips of de­vel­op­ment projects and schemes in BJP-run states, speeches of se­nior lead­ers, and so on. They call it ‘Dig­i­tal rath’. And the party has got 70 such dig­i­tal ‘raths’ in Ben­gal trav­el­ling to 294 con­stituen­cies.

“The world is mov­ing at a speed. While main stream me­dia is im­por­tant, so­cial me­dia too plays a sig­nif­i­cant role. Un­for­tu­nately, Ben­gal never saw all th­ese be­cause of the dogma of the Left Front. The BJP and Modi ji al­ways be­lieved in mod­ern meth­ods. Hence, what you see to­day is the re­sult of BJP’s ef­forts in so­cial me­dia cam­paign in 2014 elec­tion. We were lead­ing then and other par­ties were try­ing to catch up,” said Sisir Ba­jo­ria, a BJP spokesper­son. PARTY Name of Lead­ers Hash tags used by the par­ties Num­ber of Fol­low­ers party supremo and Ben­gal chief min­is­ter #AITCWin­ning #RealBen­gal Gen­eral sec­re­tary #On­ward­sInBen­gal , #Peo­plesPower , #Al­ter­na­tiveBen­gal MP MP in BJP Na­tional sec­re­tary in charge of Ben­gal #BhaagMam­taBhaag #BJP4Ben­gal #Actof Fraud #TMCSe­tuGate

ac­tor pres­dent of West Ben­gal Pradesh Congress Com­mit­tee and MP #INC4Ben­gal

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