Ahead of the 2004 general election, voters across the country received phone calls purportedly from the prime minister himself.
To be more precise, it was a pre-recorded, automated message from Atal Bihari Vajpayee appealing to citizens to vote for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the coalition it led, the National Democratic Alliance.
As it emerged, the appeal didn’t quite work and the BJP was voted out in the elections, but political parties are embracing telecom technologies with greater enthusiasm to connect with the electorate in the 15th Lok Sabha polls.
Smart messaging: Parties are embracing telecom technologies with greater enthusiasm to connect with voters. Rajkumar / Mint
Five years since the 2004 elections, India’s phone base, including mobile phones and phones of the fixed-line variety, has jumped nearly six times to nearly 430 million, up from some 75 million at the end of March 2004.
Apart from the push SMSes (or short message services) and automated dialler used by the BJP, there are a handful of new products and services that political parties are deploying this time, says Vineet Kaul, vice-president of One97 Communications Pvt. Ltd, a provider of value-added services on mobile phone networks.
Some parties, he said, declining to name them, have decided to create a so-called IVR (short for interactive voice response system) and toll-free IVR numbers that a voter can dial and get more information about the local candidates.
“One major difference is that not only the national leaders but the local or regional leaders are also approaching us so as to reach the last mile,” said Kaul. With two out of five Indians carrying mobile phones, he adds, such messaging by political parties makes for “a very cost-effective method”.
An analyst estimates such spending will scale Rs50 crore by the time the election ends on 16 May.
“With around 300 million subscribers being targeted and each of the two largest parties looking at contacting a voter between five and seven times, we see an opportunity of around $10 million (Rs50 crore) in additional value-added services revenues due to automated outbound diallers and SMSes,” said Kunal Bajaj, director with research and consulting firm BDA Connect.
“The Parliament already has a solution where they are able to send messages of the daily agenda and other such information to its members. Many of the parties have this in place and use it to send instructions or whips to party workers, among others, in the closed user groups,” said Bajaj.
Shashi Tharoor, contesting from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala on a Congress ticket, has created a community using SMS GupShup, a group SMS service.
A spokesperson representing Webaroo Technology India Pvt. Ltd, the firm that runs the service, said its technology enables Tharoor to directly interact with people from his constituency through the mobile phone via SMS.
The Lok Satta Party has also created a group called Loksaataks to interact with its members and volunteers.
And the BJP, too, is using the service in several regions including Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the spokesperson added.
Compiled by Mint reporters