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New Delhi: The Congress government under Indira Gandhi hunted Marxists during the Emergency, and Pinarayi Vijayan won’t let you forget that.

On 1 April, the politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM, which is trying to dislodge the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front government in Kerala, posted a photo on Facebook of him meeting an aged comrade, who he said was injured in a police attack during the Emergency. In a caption, Vijayan also recalled the torture, illegal detention and the reign of Congress gangs during those days.

The CPM, which has been perceived as being suspicious of online and social media platforms, has amplified its web presence as it tries to reclaim power in West Bengal and Kerala, two states critical for the party. Through Facebook posts, tweets and frequent updates on its official websites, the party and its leaders are seeking to reconnect with the masses and the youth in particular.

The largest party of the Left Front is using the web to outline campaign events, candidate profiles and target the government in both the states.

In West Bengal, the CPM has launched a dedicated website for the polls and a special campaign song.

In Kerala, the party has launched a missed-call campaign through which voters will hear recorded messages directly from the state leadership.

Senior leaders, including general secretary Sitaram Yechury, and state leaders are using Twitter and Facebook to update voters on their campaign.

According to Census 2011, 89.7% of the population in Kerala have access to a mobile phone or a landline telephone, while in West Bengal it’s 49.2% and nationally the figure is 63.2%. Kerala and West Bengal have a population of 3.34 crore and 9.13 crore respectively.

“Social media gives you the ability to connect with a larger audience base. You can get your view across and take part in debates. This also helps the party connect with a larger base, especially the youth," said a senior leader of the party, who did not wish to be named.

Senior party leaders such as West Bengal state secretary Surya Kanta Mishra, Pinarayi Vijayan, and MPs Mohammed Salim and Ritabrata Banerjee have been giving regular updates of the party’s campaign on Twitter and Facebook.

The focus on social media comes at a time when the CPM is faced with a sharply reduced political footprint. The party is now in power only in one state: Tripura.

In West Bengal, the CPM is facing stiff competition from the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which has been actively using social media to talk up the achievements of the five-year-old government.

The CPM, which launched its Twitter handle only in February 2014, now has more than 20,000 followers, marginally more than the TMC’s approximately 19,300 followers.

Stressing the importance of boosting the party’s social media presence, Yechury had said in an interview with Mint in February, “The connect with the youth depends on the success of the new methods that are there. You have to reach these students and the main medium will be social media in which parties like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have been leaps and bounds ahead of us. We are trying to make up in that area. The question is of reaching these sections."

According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and market research firm IMRB International, there are 143 million social media users in India as on April 2015.

West Bengal and Kerala go to the polls along with Assam, Tamil Nadu and the Union territory of Puducherry between 4 April and 16 May. The results will be announced on 19 May.

Other major parties have been adopting new media strategies to connect with voters. The Bharatiya Janata Party used the Internet extensively to promote itself during the general elections in 2014, and other digital campaigns included missed-call messages.

In the recent assembly elections held in Bihar and Delhi, the Janata Dal (United) and the AAP also used digital forums to campaign.

An analyst said political parties cannot ignore such a platform if they want to tap the vast youth base.

“The younger voter base is significantly higher. Whether a traditional or a modern party, they all have to depend on social media platforms. All parties have to reach out to catch up with the youth," said N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst. “Social media enables parties to reach people in a uniform way," he added.

PTI contributed to this story.

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