New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plans to use mobile phones aggressively in an attempt to maximise its voter reach ahead of the Delhi assembly and the general elections.

In the run-up to the 2004 elections that it was supposed to win, the BJP used mobile phones, with users picking up calls to hear the disembodied voice of then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee introducing himself and speaking about his government’s achievements.

The party’s mobile phone strategy kicked off along with the rally for its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Rewari in Haryana on Sunday. The party’s IT cell plans to extend the reach of Modi’s sizable presence on the social media space by transferring his tweets via SMS to feature phones.

According to Arvind Gupta, head of the BJP IT cell, this will increase the number of people who receive Modi’s tweets. People will also be able to call in to a phone number that will connect them automatically to the live speech of Narendra Modi in upcoming election rallies.

The number of mobile connections in the country, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as of June 2013 was 873 million. Of this 522 million were in urban areas with the remaining 351 million in rural areas. Experts say many people have multiple connections and that the actual number of mobile phones in India will be around 500 million.

The party also intends to increase voter turnout by using mobile applications that will be available across platforms. The most prominent of the voter apps which will be available across iOS and Android platforms will carry information regarding the location of electoral booths as well as mechanism for voters to make sure that they are registered to vote. The app will carry details of the candidates contesting across constituencies as well as details of how to reach out to BJP volunteers and party members. The apps will be launched for the first time in the first week of October and will be used in the upcoming Delhi state elections.

The party’s IT Cell expects to have about 300,000 downloads of the app before the assembly elections. The party says that they already dispersed about a quarter of million apps across platforms. The app has been conceived and developed by an in-house team led by Gupta. “We believe that there will be about 160 seats in the general elections that will be affected by the use of digital media and can be influenced by our outreach methods", Gupta said.

A study conducted in April by IRIS Knowledge Foundation and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (AIMAI) suggested that there are nearly 160 constituencies (out of 543 in the lower house of parliament) where the margin of victory is smaller than the number of constituents on Facebook, or where over 10% of the population is on Facebook.

However, experts are sceptical about the impact of the apps. “This cannot be a very effective tool. People don’t forget that it is a voting day. It will still take 5-7 years for technology to have an impact on voter turn out", says Sanjay Kumar, a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

“You still need party workers to go out and attract voters on election day", he added.

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