Mumbai: In 2004, in the run-up to the elections the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) famously lost, mobile phone users across India were surprised to receive a call from then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. “Mein Atal Behari Vajpayee bol raha hoon,” (This is Vajpayee talking), the calls began, airing a pre-recorded message.
On Monday, with a doff of the hat to Siri, the BJP, in association with its partner Voxta Communications Pvt Ltd, launched a service where people can dial a number (022-45014501), listen to Modi’s live speeches (if any are going on) or pre-recorded messages on a clutch of topics (the user picks the topic from a menu).
“(Apple Inc’s) Siri has been used to search for pizza or beauty parlours, but using Hindi speech recognition to search for policy and what candidates are saying has not been done before. Also, in country like India, where only 20% have access to the internet, this means people who are not literate, nor online, can use a basic phone, to get dynamic information,” said Sirish Reddi, founder, Voxta.
The BJP seems to have stolen a march over its rivals with its use of technology.
“Application of technology is in BJP’s genes. It is not just in this election. Even back in the late eighties when mobile phones were just introduced and call rates were as high as Rs64 a minute, BJP leaders were seen flaunting them. BJP even collected the database of pager users to reach out to them using that medium,” says Girish Kuber, Editor of Marathi Daily, Loksatta.
To be sure, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) too are employing sophisticated social listening, reputation management and analysis tools to identify and nurture social media influencers. They are using digital management platforms to crunch and analyse the data, intelligent SMS tools for targeted messaging (to a specific state or body of people, for instance) and algorithms that can determine the age, demographics and location of the targeted voters.
Political parties have set aside around 2-5% of their election budgets for spending on social media. Recent media reports have put the media spending by the Congress and the BJP during elections at about Rs500 crore and Rs400 crore, respectively, according to an 8 October report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India.
“We have a 360-degree campaign. Internet consumers get to consume information at their own time, and we want to replicate that experience for those who don’t have access to internet,” said Arvind Gupta, BJP’s head of the IT division.
At the end of January 2014, 922 milllion people had phones according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).