Lok Sabha 2024: Modi’s party volunteers targeting 100,000 people a day

Lok Sabha 2024: Modi's party volunteers targeting 100,000 people a day
Ankur Rana has been working on BJP's social media strategy from Uttar Pradesh

Ankur Rana yells obsessively into his phone, sending emails to each of the thousands of WhatsApp groups he controls.

” I have 400- 450 Facebook groups which each have roughly 200- 300 people. Apart from this, I have about 5, 000 strong connections. In the run-up to last month’s vote, the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) social media coordinator for the Meerut parliamentary constituency in western Uttar Pradesh explained in detail how I personally reach 10 to 15 000 people each day.

He was a key member of a pro-BJP coalition that ensures that lots of Uttar Pradesh districts are served as a single representative for the BJP’s campaign.

The BJP has identified WhatsApp as a crucial tool for achieving their ambitious goal of 370 votes in this year’s Lok Sabha election, despite the operation’s size being eye-watering.

With more than half a billion people using the communications service every time, India is WhatsApp’s largest industry worldwide.

They forward all from” good day” to jokes- and, crucially, political remark in different languages.

And because they make an effort to include the BJP’s message in everything, participants like Ankur are a key component of the electoral process.

The BBC spoke with 10 different BJP individuals who also serve as Uttar Pradesh’s district social media supervisors, and they all claimed to run thousands of Facebook groups with people ranging from 200 to 2 000 each.

Volunteers from the BJP office in Meerut sent thousands of messages to people every day

BJP individuals in Meerut claim that each day the group’s Delhi HQ sends political communications and hashtags that need to style to the state-level office. These hashtags range from praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP to criticizing the criticism.

From there, the texts reach 180 Meerut district participants, including Ankur. Further down the line, these volunteers distribute messages, which ultimately reach those in charge of the battle at each voting booth.

WhatsApp is particularly effective for reaching the young, according to Ankur, who runs a digital marketing firm in Mumbai when he is n’t volunteering for the BJP on unpaid leave.

The over- 40s, he reveals, are more active on Facebook.

” On regular, our goal is to approach 100, 000- 150, 000 fresh persons each day”, he says.

According to experts, the BJP’s apparently unmatched social media campaign appears to be reversing its trend from its rivals.

But none of it works, claim party activists, especially since they need to get people’s amounts in the first place.

Vipin manages messaging for one polling booth in Meerut constituency

” Each member of the party, from the bottom to the very bottom, including the party leader, is responsible for 60 electors”, said Vipin Vipala, in charge of fighting for the BJP near a voting booth in Meerut.

We must constantly communicate with the 60 people who have been assigned to us and encourage them to support the BJP. Additionally, we have a responsibility to involve their mobile numbers in our messaging groups.

Vipin’s WhatsApp group is called” Humanity is Lifestyle” for the group of voters assigned to him. The appeal appears to be based on the fact that it is not explicitly political to make the group seem democratic in this instance.

But as everyone knows, when it comes to the web, keeping full control of the tale is near on impossible.

And when that tale is being shared on personal Facebook groups and accounts, it’s also very difficult to know what exactly is being shared and where it came from in the first place.

According to one popular information that was shared numerous times by various groups, the BBC received accusations that the Congress party was appeased by the Muslim minority.

It read,” Congress had already made India an Islamic nation, they simply never publicly announced it,” in Hindi. The information continued with 18 methods that it was claimed the Congress favors the Muslim community.

Although its roots are a mystery, it does resemble remarks made by the BJP management during recent election rallies.

In April, Mr Modi himself was accused of Islamophobia after claiming in demonstrations that the opposition had spread people’s money to “infiltrators” if they won strength, in comment referring to Muslims.

The BJP’s individual social media accounts have shared animated movies that repeatedly repeat the statement, and its leaders falsely asserted that the Congress ‘ statement contains this information. The term Muslims or redistributing wealth are not mentioned in the report.

Kiran Garimella, assistant professor at Rutgers University, who is researching the use of WhatsApp in India, says that the standard narrative of social parties is generally mirrored on personal groups- but therefore, it becomes hard to unpick what is official, and what is unofficial.

There is a top-down push, there is the IT cell ( the BJP’s social media team ), and there is content produced around it that is sustained and coordinated. However, he says the main innovation is that there is widespread support for these kinds of stories, and that is because WhatsApp has two distinct types of content: supporter and IT cell.

And while messages may originate on one platform, they may also be circulating across other media, convincing viewers that what they see is the real story.

The BJP made an implied claim in a recent campaign advertisement that Mr. Modi had ordered the Russian military to stop occupying the Ukrainian campus as a result of the fighting.

The advertisement shows perplexed couples awaiting their children at an Indian airport as a young woman hugs her parents and tells them Mr Modi "stopped the war"

Bharatiya Janata Party

It was a claim that was first made by several X accounts in March 2022 and later expanded by some news outlets.

At the time, India’s foreign affairs ministry rejected the claim. ” To say that somebody’s holding off bombing, or that, you know, this is something we are co- ordinating, that I think is absolutely inaccurate”, a spokesman had said.

The BJP’s top leaders mentioned it during the election campaign two years later, and the advertisement received a lot of attention on social media. Why it was repeating the claim was not the BJP’s response to a question.

Outside Meerut University, we met students in their early 20s who are first- time voters. We asked them whether they had heard the claim, and what they believed.

Most students said they believe Mr Modi stopped the Russia-Ukraine war for a few hours

Most said they’d come across it on X.

” Yes, definitely we believe the war was paused because of India’s request”, said Vishal Verma to agreement from his friends. Others gathered around us nodded in agreement. Just a couple of students disagreed. Kabir said,” It is not true. I’ve seen students claim that the government did n’t help them in videos that were actually made by them.

We also posed the same query to residents of a nearby village, many of whom had seen the assertion being made on television.

” Yes, the war was stopped because Modi is respected globally”, said Sanjeev Kashyap, a 41- year- old farmer.

” Look, we have heard the war was stopped. We have not gone to see for ourselves. But I think there must be some truth in it”, said 75- year- old Jagdish Chaudhury. Four other villagers voted for him.

It’s a crucial power- being able to influence what people believe. In the end, it might have an impact on how they vote.

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