NEW DELHI: Karnataka will vote tomorrow. The run-up to the elections has seen both the BJP and Congress bring their a-game, especially on social media which is fast emerging as the new-age battlefield. Hashtags and tweets have kept people amused and competing politicians on their toes - marking the historic shift in campaigns ever since 2014.

Social media played an important part in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, as the BJP was one of the first parties to tap into the digital space. As such, the party leads by a wide margin in terms of followers. This holds true for Karnataka as well as BJP Karnataka has almost four times as many followers (178,860) as Congress Karnataka (45,771). Behind the mocking tweets, trending hashtags, minute-to-minute updates of rallies, there are teams working all day long- turning offices into ‘war rooms.’

According to a study, India is set to have around 530 million smartphone users. With this level of penetration, political parties are strategically developing and investing in their Information and Technology (IT) cells. Starting from 2014, these IT cells have been at the centre stage of all political campaigns. They create political agendas on micro blogging sites like twitter, circulate thousands of whatsApp messages within a span of a few hours, create viral political videos and target political leaders through attacking posts that in turn steers ‘propaganda through media’. This is done to systematically set the desired discourse in order to sway public opinion while aiming at strategically tweaking the voting outcomes in their direction.

BJP has created over 23,000 WhatsApp groups with 80-100 members. The only drawback of WhatsApp is that once the message is forwarded, the sender cannot control it, while other networks give control to the party, suggests a report by Economic Times.

The IT Cell of the concerned party puts out a specific hashtag, followed by tweets by party leaders and the party committee to popularize it. “It is not always that an IT cell comes up with a hashtag but it is also what people catch out of a speech. For instance, #RamRamJApnaParayaMaalApna was something that people gathered out of a speech and later, Akhilesh used it”, said Ashish Yadav, IT head and Media Secretary, Samajwadi Party.

As such, political commentary over social media -- the new means of campaigning -- shows how political parties and the supporter base has diverted from ‘real’ agendas of elections and moved towards blame games and mockery. Attacks are increasingly personal, with party agenda and work on the ground taking a backseat.

In a recent development, accusing Rahul Gandhi of practicing Hinduism only for cameras during elections, Yeddyurappa called him #ElectionHindu which emerged as one of the most popular hashtags. Another popular hashtag, taking a jibe at CM Siddaramaiah, the BJP coined #10percentCM for the CM’s corruption and inefficiency in the state. Another tweet from the party said “while the Mangalyaan mission (to Mars) itself cost Rs. 450 crore but laying roads for a stretch of 12 km in Bangaluru costs Rs. 468 crore”, clearly putting across the analogy as an account of corruption.

Another instance where BJP president Amit Shah, during his recent visit to Bhopal, had compared BJP as 'Angad Ka Paon’, saying nobody could displace the party from Madhya Pradesh started a whole new ‘reel world’ problem where a cartoon film was released by BJP supporters to mock Congress. The cartoon film is based on Ramayana which shows Congress state president Kamal Nath as demon king ‘Ravan’ and chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan as ‘Angad’.

Rejecting Congress claims, BJP leaders said that Congress was trying to blame BJP without any evidence, which shows how demoralised it is before the elections in view of the recent release. “What Amit Shah said is true, but I am not aware of any such cartoon film”, said cabinet minister and government spokesperson Narottam Mishra, in response to the Times of India.

For its part, the Congress and Siddaramaiah in particular have kept the social media ball rolling in Karnataka, taking to twitter to hit out at PM Modi and the BJP. #ModiHitWicket was one of the popular hashtags from Congress’ side this election season.

The Prime Minister too has joined in. PM Modi while addressing poll rallies in Karnataka said the Congress is a party that has disrespected the armed forces. “Forgetting the national heroes, patriots and history is the nature of a family in the Congress. (Jawaharlal) Nehru and V K Krishna Menon insulted General (KS) Thimayya, who had to resign. They neglected General (K M) Cariappa,”

Social media responded…

Interestingly, references were made not merely to language, mythology, history, religion, governance but also to pop culture. American drama series, Game of Thrones, found place in Karnataka election tweets and memes. Political parties and the current government finds themselves the target of memes that the support groups and the parody accounts keep generating, time and again.


As per the model code of conduct for elections, political campaigning on the ground has stopped 48 hours before polling. Meanwhile, the political war on social media still continues, transforming each voter- one meme at a time.