What’s On

Revisiting the impact of tech & innovation on Indian elections

History will, one day, show that the summer of 2014 was a watershed moment in the electoral legacy of India. We have just successfully concluded the mammoth Indian election. The Indian Parliamentary election is arguably the largest public relations exercise with multiple parties wooing a highly diverse, informed and active electorate. The total electorate eligible to vote was a staggering 814.5 million, more than the combined populations of the USA, UK, Russia, Brazil and Germany. There were about 919,000 polling stations set up across various parts of the country to deal with this mammoth logistical exercise.

In a national election which recorded the highest-ever voter turn-out of over 66 per cent, one cannot discount the role that must have been played by smart communications. Communicating not just to the party workers or loyal supporters, but to fence-sitters, sceptics and disbelievers may be well cut-out, but cannot be an easy task. The use of well-crafted strategies in traditional platforms and the planned use of social media were common to all parties. Everything from mass rallies to the use of tweets was meticulously executed by an army of party workers and agency partners. With a little caution, one can definitely say this was the biggest boost in revenue for the industry in 2014 as political parties had large budgets, which they spent on everything from PR to massive advertising campaigns. The election spend to reach out to the every voter this time around was reportedly more than USD 5 billion, a figure which tripled from the last time around in 2009.

The Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) won with a historical landslide victory and its Prime Ministerial nominee – Narendra Modi is forming the new government. During nine months of the campaigning period, he has addressed 437 big rallies, participated in a total 5827 public interfacing events and travelled almost 19,000 miles across 25 states in the endeavour to reach out to his audience. He is one of the most followed personalities on social media and has effectively managed to use this medium to capture the attention of the youth of India amongst other segments of society. Modi will be known not only for the outstanding win but the way he has used a team of well qualified advisors to ensure that his image was also carefully crafted to become larger than life to his party workers and the electorate. It is not unusual to have larger than life personalities in politics but in this election we saw the effective and planned build up of Modi as one. Some political experts have equated his slick campaign strategy to the first Obama campaign in the US.

Understanding the overall frustration with the existing policies and lack of governance of the Congress/Gandhi family led alliance government was at the core of what dictated the campaign message of the BJP. ‘Economic development agenda for India backed by stable and good governance for all citizens’ was the message, this resonated well with voters.

The Congress party with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi at the helm is expressing regret and shock from the resounding defeat. People across the board were fed up with 10 years of corruption and lack of accountability and poor communication from the Congress-led alliance. They mounted a massive PR and advertising campaign. They tried different strategies of meeting smaller groups in closed door, by invitation only and thematic gatherings, but all this didn’t work. This was compounded with Rahul Gandhi’s lack of political personality and his inexperience.

These elections have thrown many surprises, even for us, who have been following Indian politics. Yes, there were surprises politically, but what was interesting was the deployment of such diverse tools and technology that were used by parties and candidates to become topics of conversations. The BJP, for example, used latest technology and created holographic projections to hold mini-rallies at multiple locations across the country simultaneously. Such innovation is fairly unheard of within the realm of traditional politics.

Modi will have a daunting task ahead leading this massive country of over a billion people. I am confident we will see better economic prospects, quicker decision-making and a focus on better communicating the development agenda of India to its citizens and the world in the days ahead. In the past few years, there has been a sense of wait and watch by all, especially industry, but all this is slowly being replaced with positive sentiment which has started to fuel investments and our stock market reflects this positive mood. There is also cautious optimism by corporate India that the economy will be on a steady growth trajectory under the new government. In a time when media releases 100-day report cards of leaders and governments, there will be a lot of global attention on Modi’s leadership. In fact, it is my view that the world will renew focus on the great India story once again.

Ameer Ismail

The author, Ameer Ismail, is the Executive Director of LinOpinion GolinHarris in India.