Lok Sabha polls: The invisible touch of technology

Written by Uma Ganesh | Updated: May 12 2014, 06:50am hrs
Lok Sabha electionsPolitical parties have intelligently been using the internet as well as the mobile medium to convey their messages.
As compared to the last General Elections held in 2009, the current General Elections have been significantly more engaging with the public at large. In 2009, political parties and contestants largely relied on communication and connect with the public through TV channels, posters, banners, specially fitted vehicles carrying video messages, door to door campaigning and rallies. In addition to use of these media, during the General Elections of 2014 we have witnessed a significant shift in the spend and focus towards use of digital technologies to address the targeted audiences by various political parties.

Political parties have intelligently been using the internet as well as the mobile medium to convey their messages. The 200 million internet users and more than four times that number of mobile subscriber base India has have provided new channels of communication to the political parties. Facebook and Google have taken advantage of the current interests of the Indian public in elections and have been hosting online town hall meetings and Hangouts with the politicians thus moving technology into the realms of electioneering and offering new channels of dialogue between people. Microsoft and CNN IBN partnership for election analytics is another smart move that highlights the significance of technology in poll predictions and analysis when the results are announced.

All candidates are using social media to reach out to the people that matter, although the percentage of electorate they may touch through this medium will be very small as compared to 814 million voters who are participating in the election process. Still the instant impact they are making in forming opinions and influencing the constituents can be experienced in other media such as television and newspapers.

Narendra Modi and BJP seem to have created the maximum presence on social media with Modi having 3.6 million Twitter followers and Rahul Gandhi having 100,000 followers. The data that is coming through from Twitter, Facebook and other blogs are being quickly analysed and fed into strategy cells for immediate response or actions to be initiated. Analysis of big data is helping political parties to create targeted messages for different segments thus ensuring better response from the intended audiences.

Several videos depicting political contestants in positive or negative limelight have gone viral, smartly planned to reach out to people at the right time to influence them, thus even managing to overcome the electoral process restrictions in some cases. The three dimensional hologram used by Modi for his digital rallies and the virtual chats using tea stalls across the country are examples of other smart uses of technology to communicate with the people thus managing to expand geographical reach during the packed electioneering phase.

Elections are fuelling new thoughts and ideas around the use of technology not just with the political parties but are also providing with new opportunities to tech companies to create new tools and solutions. We have seen products such as Voxta, a speech recognition tool being used for search on policy and candidates views and being used for the purpose of engaging with the voters in multiple languages. Frrole is helping media houses and companies analyse the social media messages and identify the key trends emerging. There are also several content focused startups which have emerged to act as platforms for facilitating donations, election analysis, voicing issues concerning the voters and public debates connecting the voters with the political contestants. It is expected that some of these start ups will be able to build on the election momentum and scale further beyond the elections to use the tools and solutions designed for the electoral process for other applications as well.

Despite the ability to create the required tools, provide access to technology and the machinery perfected over the years to manage the mammoth Indian election process, the fact remains that the entire election process from start to finish including counting and announcement of results is a time consuming process. Given that India has been a pioneer in introducing electronic voting machines that has reduced the immense cost and time in administering elections, counting of votes and announcing of results, we should be thinking of how we could use Aadhaar and biometric tools to move towards e-voting. This would also ensure the voter strength gets enhanced by enabling those who are away from the locations where their names are registered at the time of voting and those who have been abstaining from voting to exercise their franchise.

As has been observed over the years, with technology adoption costs dropping and access increasing day by day, those political parties which have not used technology to their advantage would have to catch up with others before the next elections as communication with the electorate is not elections centric-one time activity. Continuity in communication and analysis of feedbacks are best achieved through digital technologies in a cost effective manner.

In addition to communication, with more educated and young people forming a large percentage of the votebank, political parties would be expected to share with their electorates the progress they are making on a regular basis, the promises made during the time of campaigning instead of waiting for the next election. This would mean in the coming days it would become imperative for the political parties to start focusing upon interactive communication and engagement of the voters on issues that are of interest to them and creating a sense of participation in the governance process.

As a result, political parties who are keen to be in the driving seat would need to educate the public about the pros and cons of the bills to be introduced in the Parliament, encouraging debates through internet based forums in order to assess the public sentiment and gain insights on likely issues to be faced during implementation. Thus with sustained use of technology to communicate, creating champions of their ideas and eliciting opinions on key issues, political parties would be successful in presenting the leadership perspectives to the Indian public on an ongoing basis and not necessarily wait for the next General elections.

It could be argued that some of the political parties are already attempting to do this using other media. The advantage political parties could gain through the effective use of digital media, constant and smart use of social media and big data analytics is that the targeted engagement, proximity and mind share could be built and sustained over a long period of time. Citizens have started realising technology can aid in strengthening the foundation of democracy by providing channels for their views to be heard and opinions to be shaped so that the choice of elected representatives they make is based on verifiable facts and trends.

The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company