This has been Modi’s main thrust area, where he is miles ahead of other politicians. With a lethal combination of first movers’ advantage and aggressive strategy, Modi has rightly been dubbed an online phenomenon.
An IT war room called National Digital Operations Centre (N-DOC) in New Delhi is handled by Arvind Gupta, head of national IT cell of the party. BJP claims to have identified 155 Lok Sabha seats where social media campaign is going to play a crucial role. Team of professionals like Rajesh Jain and B Mahesh are working round the clock to take benefit of IT on these 155 seats. Independent professional Maulik Bhagat, officer on special duty in Modi’s CMO Hiren Joshi and Prashant Kishore are anchoring in Gujarat.
Congress’s IT cell convener Rohan Gupta concedes that Modi reached out to online audiences when others had not even taken cognizance of it as a medium. “After the 2002 riots, the traditional media shunned him. He turned to the online media to directly reach out to voters. And it seems to have worked. There are dozens of agencies working for his online presence,” he said.
For example, keep its strategic team updated on campaigning. “The software keeps updating details of campaigning at assembly level segments in each Lok Sabha seat. The details are updated on daily basis. So, when campaigning ends, progress can be verified,” a volunteer of the IT team said.
Each Lok Sabha seat has been assigned one IT coordinator and three workers under him are assigned each assembly segment. “Their task is to check at how many places public meetings were held, what were the issues discussed, whether the candidate was also a speaker at the meeting, campaign material distributed at each place, etc. It also has a column where you have to enter details of public meetings conducted by opposition parties,” the volunteer added.
Another important software or application is NaMoNumber. It allows electorate to register with the party and get the date, booth number and other details of voting. “We can start getting people to get their voter IDs. It will help us to identify the areas where we need to do more work. This information can then be used by party volunteers,” a member of the party’s national IT team said.
A voice-based mass messaging system is another novelty. “It will allow volunteers and other participants to talk to each other, send and receive important messages on campaign during the elections. It will be a closed group application,” he added.
The online campaign has gathered such momentum that independent entrepreneurs, smelling an opportunity, have jumped on to this bandwagon with their little armies as ‘voluntary services’. A conservative estimate is 200 independent units across India, employing anywhere upwards of 80 people each, are present in cyberspace.
Senior BJP leaders confide that there are at least three to four IT war rooms in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. These offices are inhabited for 18 hours a day by sharp-witted yuppies, sipping black coffee and smoking branded cigarettes with their heads ducked into computer/tablet /laptop screens, trailing Modi online. Located in swish buildings in upmarket localities, on the outside such a ‘war room’ would look like an average stock-brokers’ firm, till one focuses on the dozens of screens switching between Twitter, Facebook and news websites, rather than stock prices.
This domino effect was consciously triggered in early 2012 when tech-savvy BJP’s Gujarat unit trained over 200 young inspired volunteers from all over the country in Gandhinagar to campaign for Modi online.
Modi’s team has kept in touch with them since. The latter have in turn trained scores of similar individuals who are excited to be a part of what they call a “revolution”.
Just before the announcement of anointing Modi as the BJP’s PM candidate, professional agencies were appointed. “We write articles quoting statistics and experts, news reports with research. Our articles are often picked up and posted by Niticentral — the news portal run by Jain,” one such agencywala says.
“Our online army is divided into three segments. The ‘intelligentsia’, who particularly target the informed, opinion makers, influential twitteratti, like academicians, journalists, etc and engage with them on issues of national importance. The second segment is ‘common man’, who comments on Gujarat in a layman’s lingo, not laced with politics; for example ‘I am from Bihar, I visited Gujarat, the roads are so good...’
The third is what we call in our parlance ‘hooligans’, the now infamous online trolls. They get nasty with Modi critics, with the explicit purpose of giving the message that common people are sensitive about him,” says a 30-something Mohit, an IT expert as he sips coffee in a chic office located in an upscale locality in western Ahmedabad. He is unabashed about intimidating free speech online and instead justifies saying many in this online army are ‘IIT, IIM, Harvard’ graduates who do it for free. “And these are not fake handles, mind you, who will be tracked to Afghanistan or Bhutan (reference to Ashok Gehlot’s fiasco).
They are real people, with multiple handles, but may not believe everything they post,” he shrugs.
“BJP tracks us and compensates us. They brief us about what to focus on a given day, what should be trending on Twitter and international media….If we deliver, it is an opportunity for us to get noticed. Many are volunteers, who do it for a few hours daily. We are doing it for Modi, not for BJP; we are doing it for the idea of India, because we believe Modi can deliver a better India for us,” says a Delhi-based 31-year-old IT volunteer, who claims he is a ‘Godfather’ of IT outreach for Modi but refuses to identify himself.
In Ahmedabad, a geek claims Modi’s personal portal (www.narendramodi.in) gets 27,000 responses on a dull day and about 2.5 lakh responses on an average day. “He has tremendous traction in the age group of 18-35. Many of these young voters have never seen a non-Congress government. It is now in vogue, fashionable to cheer Modi. We keep our passions to minimum and facts maximum,” gushed the ‘godfather’.
“Modi is given a detailed report of online activities at 11.30 in the night and 7.30 in morning of the newspapers and international media in addition to any significant update that is given ASAP during the day.
Lakhs of media reports are generated every day,” exasperates a volunteer laying special emphasis on the words lakhs and every day.