Sachin Kalyanshetti, a BJP MLA and District President, Solapur, Maharastra, had to make quick preparations for a bike rally in his constituency, following a communication from the party’s National President to all BJP state offices.
The challenge was to reach out to thousands of party cadres without wasting time. He turned to an audio conferencing tool called grptalk.
Developed by a Hyderabad based company, Telebu, grptalk allowed Kalyanshetti to connect with 3200 workers on a single call. The platform uses PSTN (public switched telephone network) that uses traditional voice calls. Participants don’t need internet connection, grptalk app or passcode (sent in advance) to join the call.
BJP’s key rival, Congress, has also made the most of the growing smartphone penetration and 4G speeds country. The party recently launched an app called Shakti so its upper hierarchy can connect and assign tasks to party workers on the ground quickly.
Party workers are graded according to the engagement in the app and are given points. Members with 1000 points are eligible to give feedback to party leaders. According to news reports, the app is monitored by party president Rahul Gandhi himself, to stay up to date with proceedings during the elections.
Congress had reportedly roped in Gurgaon-based data analytics start-up Silver Push to analyse the effectiveness of social media campaigns using a method called sentiment analysis. It can tell which campaigns are more popular and in within which area and age group.
The administration also showed keen interest in leveraging technology during the elections. The ECI (Election Commission of India) and the officials serving as their arms and eyes during the election are using mobile apps to stay on top of the ground realities.
For instance, the recently launched cVIGIL app allowed general public to report any malpractice during elections. For officials there were different versions of the same app. Any complaint on the platform will show on the District Magistrate’s app screen, who would forward it the ARO (assistant returning officer) for an immediate investigation into the matter.
For on-ground coordination and sharing of information in real time, election officials also turned to local WhatsApp groups. Members of these groups include DM, SP (Superintendent of Police, ARO, BDO (block development officer) and police officials on election duty. If any issue was reported at a polling booth, it was shared on the group so they could get it verified immediately.
“On the day of the election the WhatsApp group proved to be very helpful. Earlier administration was not active on social media and messaging platforms. In this election, this has changed as now everyone has access to smartphones and internet. Even the older officials, are eager to learn how to handle these platforms," says Randhir Kumar, BDO, Baisa block, Purnea district in Bihar.
Voter awareness was also carried out by the DM office across the country through social media platforms like Facebook pages. The Election Commission of Bihar also launched a new app, called Ele-Traces to track the location of SST (Static Surveillance Teams) in real time to ensure they were active on the ground.
To help voters during this election, the ECI came up with the NVSP (National Voters Service Portal) where users can access electoral list, apply online for registration, print voter slip and get contact details of booth level officer for further queries. A Voter Helpline app was also introduced offering many of the services of NVSP on smartphones. It also provided information on candidates, income statement, assets and criminal cases.
However, there is room for improvement in platforms like NSVP. For instance, Sandeep Kaul, a senior marketing manager at US based MNC in Noida, used the website as it looked like a very straight forward process of filling in details and uploading required documents. After uploading the documents, he received an SMS with reference ID & was instructed to track progress online. After few days while tracking his progress online he found that his application was rejected.
“Strangely I never received any email or SMS. The reason cited by website was that I was not present at hearing, but there was no communication about same. I feel there are loose ends in the system that needs to be addressed properly," Kaul adds.
In addition to smartphones, apps and social media apps, the elections saw the deployment of drones for the first time by police forces. According to Tweets by Noida police, 13 drones were deployed in various districts of the Gautam Buddha Nagar constituency in Greater Noida to keep an eye on the proceedings during the initial phase of elections April.