It was the first national election which saw extensive use of social media in campaigning and Narendra Modi appears to have made the most of it. The BJP's prime ministerial candidate used social media, as also technology and traditional methods of moblisation, to create a multi-layered impact and, in may consequential ways, changed the way a national election campaign is run.
Modi, 63, set a punishing pace throughout the campaign, sometimes addressing as many as five rallies a day. He was sought after by all BJP candidates and took care to add local flavour and raise local issues in his speeches to create an immediate connect with the masses.
BJP leaders said that Modi-led campaign was "phenomenal" and "successful" while Congress leaders questioned the money involved and alleged that funds for the campaign may have come on the basis of unstated promises to crony capitalists.
Modi addressed nearly 440 rallies, including Bharat Vijay rallies, since he was declared the party's prime ministerial candidate last September. Modi embarked on the Bharat Vijay rallies from March 26 to give a final thrust to BJP's mission to win over 272 seats in the Lok Sabha.
Modi's candidature fired up BJP workers, who worked hard on the ground to take party's message to people. The campaign saw Modi capitalising on the tea-seller jibe at him over his origins and turning it into an electoral opportunity through his "chai pe charcha (discussion over tea)" programme which was held at over 4,000 locations.
Modi used technology to reach out to people and addressed 3D rallies that covered 1,350 locations. In all, Modi addressed rallies and programmes in almost 5,800 locations and covered a blistering 300,000 km. The campaign saw the party setting up a volunteer portal which served as a platform to get feedback and provide the volunteers a channel to work for the party. Party leaders said that various forms of social media, including Twitter and Facebook were innovately used in the campaign. Messaging platforms like WhatsApp were also used.
Modi, ever willing to identify with the youth, even took a "selfie" after casting his vote in Gandhinagar.
BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member Prakash Javadekar said the Modi-led campaign was "historical" and the gatherings he addressed were huge. "He relentlessly addressed about 450 rallies in the past nine months and raised local issues apart from those relating to the state and the country. The party ran a good advertisement campaign," Javadekar told IANS. His aides said that Modi effectively used social media, gave select media interviews out of over 250 media requests he got and also reached out to the people through 3-D hologram rallies.
Another BJP leader, Siddharth Nath Singh, said that Modi "ran a relentless campaign" and conventional ways were combined with new technology to maximise his reach among voters. "Our thrust was towards Modi's connect with voters and different means were looked at. Put together, it was a phenomenal campaign and we succeeded," Siddharth Nath Singh told IANS.
Citing innovative ways used in campaign, Singh gave an instance of how farmers from Gujarat went to Uttar Pradesh to speak about the benefits they were getting. He said there was "good communication" at all levels during the campaign and necessary feedback from ground workers reached the leadership.
Veteran journalist S Nihal Singh said that Modi's electioneering marked a paradigm shift for a national campaign. "The way BJP, Modi campaigned is exceptional in Indian terms. He has used technology to the maximum extent. The planning seems to be way ahead of party's adversaries and has been superb," Nihal Singh told IANS. "It was no doubt a superb media blitz," Nihal Singh, who has seen national elections since the fifties, added.
Asked about Congress allegations of BJP using big money, Nihal Singh said: "Obviously they had money to spend and spent it wisely and to good effect." Congress leaders privately admitted that Modi had changed the ground rules through his campaign. "He has raised the stakes. In future, a party would probably need to plan for Rs.15,000 crore to run such a campaign. The Lok Sabha campaigns earlier could have been managed in less than Rs.1,000 crore," said a Congress leader, who did not want to be named.
Other Congress leaders charged that Modi had used big money and resorted to polarisation in his campaigning.
Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala claimed that BJP had "run a very expensive campaign" costing "about Rs.10,000 crore ($2.5 billion)". Surjewala also charged that BJP leaders may have made clandestine promises to crony capitalists to fund the party's campaign.
BJP leaders, however, rubbished the charges and said that party's accounts were audited. They said not even five percent of figure mentioned by Congress was spent in the campaign.