Even as the roadshows by star campaigners are yet to begin, the political battle for winning the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) is vociferously being fought on social media, with slander, criticism, ridicule and propaganda thrown into this virtual fight. Though the election is a tri-contest between the TRS, Congress and BJP, post the Dubbaka bye-election, the battle has become primarily between the BJP and TRS.
The landscape of election battles have changed since 2014, with the BJP using social media and WhatsApp to disseminate its propaganda and attract the voters. Realising this, the ruling TRS party has also upped their social media game by constituting booth-level WhatsApp coordination committees for the election.
Both the TRS and the BJP have taken the GHMC election very seriously. While the TRS wants to assert that they still enjoy the goodwill of the people, BJP wants to project that there is anti-incumbency in the state.
Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, who previously termed the BJP an ‚Äúirrelevant‚ÄĚ party in the state and would refuse to engage with them thereby denying them validation, has now already declared a ‚Äėwar‚Äô against the BJP at the national level by attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi - an indication of how the political dynamics in the state have changed. The BJP on the other hand which is on a high after winning the recent Dubbaka bye-election has been exhausting all their ammunition to continue their winning streak and emerge as a potential competitor.
Both the parties have declared an all-out war for the prestigious battle to elect 150 corporators in the city. While the battle has turned ugly with provocative remarks by the BJP who raised suspicion that the Chief Minister and TRS leader KCR may have ‚Äúterrorist‚ÄĚ links, the social media campaign is no different. The slogan of the BJP for the election is ‚ÄėPeople for Change‚Ä¶ BJP for Change.‚Äô
Decentralised social media campaigns
The BJP‚Äôs social media strategy is three-fold: projecting the ‚Äėfailures‚Äô of TRS in addressing the civic issues of Hyderabad; amplifying the work being done by the BJP candidates during the COVID-19 lockdown and the recent floods; and propagating the party‚Äôs ideology. The Telangana BJP has decentralised the social media campaign, designating volunteers to each ward and exposing the problems of that particular area and highlighting the local BJP candidate. ‚ÄúWe have collected centralised data about Hyderabad, and we want to expose the miserable failures of the TRS in developing the city,‚ÄĚ said BJP social media campaign manager Abhishek Jagini. He added, ‚ÄúBesides the hyper-local civic issues, we want our national narrative too, as KCR (K Chandrasekhar Rao ) is speaking about forming an anti-Modi front, and the AIMIM on the other hand is projecting itself as a torchbearer of Muslims across the country.‚ÄĚ
The BJP says that it does not want to limit its campaign to the development of Hyderabad. ‚ÄúWe are also talking about the state leadership and problems across the state. It is an ideological battle and a battle to remove family rule in the state. In Dubbaka, we observed that there is a spill-over effect, people working in Hyderabad went to vote in Dubbaka, so we don‚Äôt want to limit our campaign to just around Hyderabad,‚ÄĚ Abhishek said.
Acknowledging the power of social media and how BJP would devise its strategies, the TRS too has a trained social media workforce. The TRS also has a decentralised approach. ‚ÄúBJP has penetrated into WhatsApp and it is difficult to counter their fake or misleading claims, so we have formed WhatsApp groups for each booth,‚ÄĚ said Manne Krishank, social media incharge of the TRS. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao at the recent legislative party meeting directed TRS workers to amplify the work done by the government in the past seven years and how the BJP-led Central government did not aid them. Following this, a large number of volunteers including ministers who were not active on social media have changed their approach.
‚ÄúBeing a national party, the response for the tweets and videos of BJP is huge- party units of all the states share them, while TRS being a regional party, has a smaller reach. We are changing that,‚ÄĚ said Krishank. Krishank has trained a team of volunteers to do fact-checking and research. ‚ÄúBJP pushes a lot of fake news, so our eyes and ears are always open. We counter them immediately and propagate them widely,‚ÄĚ he added.
The campaign of TRS for the election centres mostly around KT Rama Rao, as he is credited for Hyderabad's development as the Minister of Municipal Administration and Urban Development. While a legion of media campaigners spread the work done by KCR and KTR, the core team keenly follows what the BJP leaders like Kishan Reddy, Bandi Sanjay, D Arvind and DK Aruna say. A gaffe by these leaders is an opportunity to ridicule the party and their leadership.