There’s quite a tectonic shift happening in how future election campaigns would be conducted in India. Social media is at the centre of this shift, just as the TV and its local language news channels have emerged as the change catalyst for what issues gather the political storm for the masses in state after state, week after week. 
Political parties are beginning to realize the influence of the social media; the recent Gujarat elections saw major use of Facebook, twitter and You Tube. Using this medium to understand the issues that influence voters is increasingly significant for the politicians. Facebook, Twitter, Google + and YouTube seem to be the frontrunners in this battle.  There are some compelling statistics and trends that indicate this.  
India’s large population and increasing teledensity, especially in urban pockets, has spurred an impressive jump in the number of people online. Moreover, a recent report released by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and IRIS Knowledge Foundation has revealed that of India’s 543 constituencies, 160 can be termed as ‘high impact’ — that is, they will most likely be influenced by social media in the next general elections. As the report explains, high impact constituencies are those where the numbers of Facebook users are more than the margin of victory of the winner in the last Lok Sabha election, or where Facebook users account for over 10% of the voting population. The study then goes onto declare 67 constituencies as medium-impact, 60 as low-impact and 256 as no-impact constituencies. 
From Google Hangouts with overseas citizens to online political debates organized by Facebook, Indian politicians have turned to social media to woo voters ahead of this year’s general election. 
Political parties generally look to Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns for ideas about online electioneering. But is that a sensible model? Or could innovative, local strategies be more effective in the world’s largest democracy? 
India’s growing internet penetration means that social media has become an important tool in election campaigns. 
The number of social media users in India will reach 80m by the middle of this year, according to industry estimates. That may not sound like much compared with an electorate estimated at 800m, but the reach of social media goes far beyond the users themselves. 

Most people have the ability to influence families.”  
That is really what happened in Delhi, which is how the AAP [Aam Admi Party] came into power. The kids said to their parents – you will not vote Congress, I’m telling you to vote AAPEach social media user influences three more people in their household. 
There are examples of how online terminology is shaping public discourse. For instance, the Twitter hashtag “pappu” – meaning fool – for Rahul Gandhi, undeclared candidate for the incumbent Congress party, and “feku” – meaning someone who is all talk and no substance – for Narendra Modi, telegenic candidate for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, have grown into well recognised nicknames offline too. 
Even the Election Commission has recognized the importance of new media, asking candidates to declare their accounts and spending online. 

“I’ve seen social media become more important.” 
Going back to 2009, neither was the audience getting much influence nor were the politicians taking much interest… They’d be more interested in getting an interview done for a newspaper or a traditional media outlet. 
Political parties in India have borrowed some ideas from the US Democrats. For example, people on the campaign mailing list were encouraged to send in their stories which would be written up or made into video documentaries, and shared with the wider mailing list. 
“Supporters and the volunteers had a connection,” says Kate Albright-Hanna, director for video for new media in the 2008 Obama campaign. “That was the Utopian vision.” 

There is was similar idea behind the AAP’s “Call Delhi” campaign ahead of state elections in December, where supporters were encouraged to telephone the local electorate. Those who made the most calls were personally congratulated, with their name, photograph and the number of calls they made displayed on the party website. 
To that extent, the Obama campaign may have interesting ideas for India’s politicians. But a lot of the tools used in the US may not be useful in a country with far lower internet penetration and a very unique culture, where party budgets are relatively limited. 
Give a billion dollars to any bunch of clowns and they’re bound to come up with something good…A lot of these international campaigns would be best looking elsewhere for a model.” 
The well-educated and well-traveled people running political campaigns in India are aware that electioneering strategies work differently in each environment. 
The Obama campaign became successful not once but twice in a row, but at the end of the day I think we need to find our own parameters.” 
Social media is also a leveler – it can be the cheapest marketing tool around. Some hope it could help India move away from the current situation, where money means success in political campaigning. 
“Clearly Modi is spending a huge amount of money – he is obviously the one well ahead, but the ones who have used ‘social media’ most imaginatively are the AAP.” The party’s use of SMS to poll users and use of WhatsApp for communication has caught the eye. 

Parties are already coming up with low-cost, appropriate strategies for the Indian environment. 
Campaign groups have sent volunteers out to remote areas with solar-powered projectors stored in backpacks, so campaign messages can be shown directly to voters. Similarly, in areas where on-the-ground campaigning and registration drives are needed, websites, email and Google Hangouts are being used to co-ordinate volunteers. 
As well as levelling the political playing field, use of the internet for communication and organization has the potential to stop undeclared wealth – known as “black money” – filtering into election funding. 
“The use of black money in elections is going down because of this, it’s all transparent transactions because you go online.” This is because official bank accounts are required to pay for online advertising and services from big-name social networks, meaning hoards of cash are no longer used to fund expensive marketing. 
It may be optimistic to think that new media can completely remove the problem of undeclared wealth – but it is already having an effect. 
But for now, the real success of social media in Indian politics lies in lively public debate and the army of volunteers – the chai-wallas hosting live broadcasts and the young volunteers running political blogs. 
It is well known that both the colossal protests of 2012 (Anti corruption movement by Anna Hazare and outrage following Nirbhaya gang rape case) were channelized through the social media.  It is recollected that government machinery in India had come to a standstill and the events garnered immense national and global headlines, and got the common man involved. Such events prognosticate the emergence of what we call the C–governance or citizen led governance in India. Not just the political parties, even the government is beginning to experience the impact of social media. 
India’s population majorly comprises of youths, so the political parties, after realizing this have incorporated this thing by making prominent individuals a part of their political party, prime example being, Rahul Gandhi from Congress. As they belong to same generation, they are able to connect well with the youth. So they express their views through online medium along with other mediums available. 
Coming back to the topic of social media, “teens use social media platforms for more than simple voice communication. Social media are becoming a primary outlet and expressive written medium via web pages, blogs and more". Beyond the written word, social media also provide a platform for teen expression in visual arts via art, photo and video sharing sites. This opportunity to produce and shares across all the arts of expression has fuelled rapid growth in teen use of social media. 
A quick take from the recent results in the Delhi elections where the story quite clearly is that of the stunning success of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the decimation of the Congress. Anyway, moving on, this election at least in Delhi clearly indicates that social media worked. The AAP managed to convince not just a lot of ‘aam aadmi’s’ but also a lot of the upper classes and that was in no small part due to the effective use of social media. The AAP is clearly the first beneficiary of the social media revolution in Indian politics. We might or might not agree with some of the tactics used by AAP supporters online, but on that front they are as good or as bad as their political rivals. 
The study certainly seems to echo the general euphoria over social networking as a political tool. However, the number of Facebook users might not translate into any change in voting patterns -– in fact, for all we know most the 78 million Facebook users in India might not be interested in politics at all. The study, however, clearly seems to signal that the ability to connect with voters through this medium indicates that political impact could be high. 

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been the first national political party to have embraced technology to reach out to voters, with a Twitter account, Facebook page, YouTube channel, mobile app and live streaming over the internet. Its controversial leader Narendra Modi –- who some believe could become India’s next prime minister -– has over 1,600,000 followersModi has also been quick to embrace digital technology including a 3D projection of an address in 53 places in the country at the same time. India’s other big national political party, the Congress Party is catching up. Media and IT cells have been set up with an eye towards elections, and one of their star politicians on social media, Shashi Tharoor, has over 1,700,000 followers. 

There is some merit to this strategy, although in a nascent stage. Right now, there is a small but very active Twitter base in India that is highly political and there are constant fights between the right-wingers and the rest, which can be read as BJP-Congress fights. Major political episodes in the country become trending topics and both sides are able to make TV news headlines quite regularly. However, at this point it would be safe to assume that most middle class Indians experience political activity on Twitter through news reports on TV than actually by engaging with the medium themselves. Therefore, while they can reach a large number of people through the medium, as yet, they cannot swing an election based on social media. 

As the middle class expands, more Indians are expected to get online. Young people are digital natives, and those who can afford smartphones are addicted to them. The general feeling is that politics needs to adapt to the habits and lifestyle of this demographic, and perhaps in that enthusiasm its real role gets overplayed in the media. 

However, there is good reason to believe the future is closer than we might imagine. A recent election in the ‘modern’ city of Bangalore saw all politicians engage heavily with social media. And, India’s huge anti-corruption movement led by activist Anna Hazare and his colleague Arvind Kejriwal in April 2012 was almost entirely fuelled by media support and a very engaged online stategy. The movement led to an anti-corruption bill being tabled in Parliament. Many of the members of that movement have now formed the Aam Aadmi Party (literally translated into ‘ordinary man’ party) and rely very heavily on social media to reach their constituency – the middle class. However, Kejriwal only has just over 300,000 followers on Twitter, especially when compared to BJP’s Modi or Congress’s TharoorKejriwal’s erstwhile movement, India Against Corruption has under 1,000,000 likes on Facebook. For a movement that aims to represent all of the middle class, the numbers don’t yet show their true potential. 

And in the end, that might well be the final analysis of social media in India right now. The numbers, while impressive, do not yet indicate deep engagement and involvement in the political sphere.  
In 2014, politicians might do well to remember a computer screen is no match for campaigning in the heat and dust of the smallest corners of the country. Because, truly, that’s where their people are.