Voting in 140 characters

May 20 2014, 20:46 IST
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SummaryNever before has an Indian election been so influenced by technology

The quinquennial battle of wits we like to call the General Elections has finally come to an end. While most of us would like to look at the process as a test of our democratic institutions and credentials, I could not overlook the influence technology has had on this particular edition. We would have had a very different election, maybe with very different results, had there been no mobile phones, internet or the micro-blogging platform called Twitter.

For me one incident during a recent flight from Chennai to Delhi sums up this side-story of Elections 2014. The seatbelt sign has just been switched off on the late evening flight and a group of middle-aged men, obviously working for the same company, start discussing the elections crowing over the front rows. One of them has a lot of hot rumours about a particular politician and most of the seats around him are listening in rapt attention. “How do you know all this?” someone asks. “WhatsApp pe aaya hai bhai (It came on WhatsApp),” he replies, sure of his little nuggets of information as well as its source.

While most of us would look at WhatsApp as a tool to keep in touch with friends and family at a relatively lower cost, this instant messaging app has over the past few elections become a popular tool to reach out to the electorate. These groups can range from large national ones run by the social media wings of parties to block-level communities created on the initiative of some tech-savvy neta. Either way, the app does its job of reaching out to the masses pretty well. Other messaging apps like WeChat, ChatON and the BlackBerry Messenger have all played their part in this elections, though not always in quantifiable ways.

The influence of the elections on the apps was not limited to chatting. In fact, there was a burst of seasonal gaming apps that tried to cash in on the popularity of Narendra Modi, Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi. While there are well over 3,000 apps related to election keywords on the Google Play store, I could count at least 20 Modi Run games on the store. It is anybody’s guess if the people who actually made Modi run through the states collecting votes finally ended up pushing the button in his favour.

Twitter created the biggest buzz for all the stakeholders this time. While all parties ran

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