In Karnataka, BJP is setting up 5,000 WhatsApp groups with 2018 election in sight

Jayadevan PK June 27, 2017 4 min

Most of Karnataka is yet to warm up to the 2018 assembly elections — to be held before May next year. But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already started prepping for an electoral battle many see as crucial for the party.

The party, which is known bring its social media chops and tech savvy to the pitch, is doubling down on WhatsApp this time. FactorDaily has learned that the BJP, which anticipates a tough election in Karnataka, has started working on creating nearly 5,000 WhatsApp groups to get its message across.

FactorDaily has learned that the BJP, which anticipates a tough election in Karnataka, has started working on creating nearly 5,000 WhatsApp groups to get its message across  

“Earlier it was confined to social media, blogging and website. But now, from manifesto to electioneering, we have all the expertise to take it to the next level,” K Amresh, convenor of the BJP information technology cell in Karnataka told FactorDaily.

These groups are made up of mostly volunteers, segregated by categories like age, work status, gender, senior citizen, rural, urban and so on. “We are creating the content and sending all messages and achievements in these groups,” said Amresh.

The plan is to identify 100 volunteers in every assembly constituency to run these groups. “They don’t have to do any meetings, hold protests or any other activity. The least expected is to spend half an hour everyday on mobile,” Amresh told FactorDaily on the phone. Across Karnataka, nearly 25,000 BJP volunteers will be part of the group.

The BJP used WhatsApp along with other social media extensively in the elections in Goa and Uttar Pradesh in February. The strategy, which some media outlets called “a smartphone war in UP”, paid handsome dividends for the BJP helping it win 312 seats in an assembly of 403 seats. Also see: Internet ninjas in the mother of electoral battles in Uttar Pradesh.

The Congress, the main opposition party in India, rules in just six states and union territories — of a total 36 — with Karnataka being the only two major states it is in power (the other one being Punjab).

“They don’t have to do any meetings, hold protests or any other activity. The least expected is to spend half an hour everyday on mobile” — K Amresh, convenor of BJP IT cell  

“BJP is hoping that social media will give them the extra bounce they badly need,” political commentator Sandeep Shastri told FactorDaily. The Congress rule in Karnataka has been largely uneventful this time around while the BJP rule before that was mired in controversies and allegations of mass scale corruption.

Shastri, the pro vice-chancellor of Jain University, said: “The race in Karnataka is going to be tight because people still remember the 2008 BJP government and its corruption. Moreover, Congress has not yet been hit by any scandals in the state this time.”

The party has also started giving volunteers training on how to use the mobile phone and create content and animation so that they can create their own campaign material based on broad guidelines and messaging sent to them. Volunteers trained in Bengaluru will go back to their respective constituencies and teach others.

WhatsApp userbase in India

The BJP has been collecting volunteer data though its membership drives. The latest such drive happened in 2016 during which the party captured details like age, residential address and gender. Nearly 84 lakh people have registered for the BJP in Karnataka out of which 25,000 volunteers have been picked to work with the IT cell. “They work on the weekends or free time or (in) the time they can spend,” Amresh said.

The shift to a deeper WhatsApp-based strategy to get the BJP’s message of ‘Good governance, transparency and accountability,’ across to people is deliberate. “If you see the data analysis, you will see that Facebook and Twitter are coming down. They are becoming junk these days,” said Amresh. Now people are moving to WhatsApp, the “common man’s internet platform,” he said. The instant messenger’s popularity in rural India is a bonus.

“If you see the data analysis, you will see that Facebook and Twitter are coming down… Now people are moving to WhatsApp, the common man’s internet platform” — Amresh  

In February, WhatsApp reportedly had 200 million users in India, making the country its largest market, as compared to 160 million in November 2016. In 2014, the instant messenger had only 50 million monthly active users in the country.

“BJP has a headstart because it realised the potential of social media and spotted the trend in the 2014 elections. It’s rivals are far behind and hardly have any presence on social media,” said Shastri, who points out that the race to 2018 election will be micro-managed by BJP’s central team.

The ruling Congress party currently has 123 of the 225 assembly seats in Karnataka, followed by the BJP that has 44 seats, Janata Dal (Secular)’s 40 seats, and other parties.

According to reports, actor-turned-politician Divya Spandana, has been appointed as the head of social media for the Congress in the state. Spandana did not respond to an interview request.


Updated at 9.30am on June 27, 2017, to correct some typos. Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.