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With 160 out of 790 million voters comprising the youth in the age group 18-24 years, social media has become a strategic tool for political parties in shaping public opinion.

The Electoral Commission set the ball rolling by mounting a social media campaign, which drew an overwhelming response from voters in terms of registration and turnout for elections held in four Indian states, including the capital, New Delhi, in November and December last year.

Responding to the winds of change, political parties have also jumped on the social media bandwagon to reach out to voters through cell phone and Twitter messages. The trend setters in the social media space have been Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Aam Admi Party (AAP) leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The Congress and other party leaders have also come on board. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said to be one of the most tech-savvy politicians in the world, �has emerged as an undisputed leader as he could sense the potential of the social media platform and the �Gen Y� of India,� says DNA.

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, politicians like Varun Gandhi, Shashi Tharoor, and Chairman of Jindal Steel and Power Ltd Naveen Jindal, among many others, have also taken to social networking.

Here a question arises: �Is the social media a game changer in Indian politics?� The answer is yes. In today�s social media environment where right connections matter, politicians do not want to lag behind others.

�With the proliferation of internet into masses, social media is emerging as a potential way of communication,� observes Himanshu Rajput, Research Scholar at the School of Business & Management Studies, at the Central University of Himachal Pradesh, in his research paper, �Social Media and Politics in India: A Study on Twitter Usage among Indian Political Leaders� published in the Asian Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies (January 1, 2014).

He points out that �it provides direct channel to politicians for communicating, connecting and engaging with public. The power of social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, has been proved by its successful application during recent US presidential elections and people�s revolt in the Arab world.�

Another contributory factor, reports the �Social Media Week� (February 17, 2015), is the need to keep abreast of current events either on the national or international front. This is where social media provide platforms for their members to remain inter-connected to make the right pitch where necessary.

Under these circumstances, social media has become a force to reckon with. Statistics show that India has 814 million voters compared to 193.6 million in the US and 45.5 million in the UK. According to a report published in April 2013 by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and the Mumbai-based Iris Knowledge Foundation, Facebook users will "wield a tremendous influence" over the results of the polls in 160 of India's 543 constituencies.

Political pundits had predicted that social media would play a major role in at least 27% of the constituencies in the 2014 parliamentary elections. An estimated 80 million Indians, including a substantial number of the youth, relied on the social media to monitor the currents and cross-currents on the Indian political scene.

The impact of the new media could be gauged from the fact that �in the past 15 days, there are over 10,000 mentions on Twitter, combining all political parties, where Aam Aadmi Party is leading the same by 4000+ mentions,� notes Aditya Gupta, co-founder of SocialSamosa.com, an Indian social media knowledge storehouse. The NGO also runs the Live Real Time Election Tracker to monitor the pulse of the electorate.

On the web, too, there were over 10,000 references to the three main parties, with the BJP mentioned 5000+ times. Millions of surfers on the net also followed them on Facebook and Twitter, indicating heightened political consciousness during the 2014 elections.

No wonder, the BJP, Congress and other opposition parties have allocated 2-5% of their election budgets for social media campaigns, reported the BBC, quoting a study undertaken by IAMAI and Mumbai-based market researcher IMRB International in October 2013. Social media is the wave of the future on the political front.

Javid Hassan

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