Will Indian politicians follow in Obama’s e-footsteps?

November 11, 2008

As the dust settles on a two-year-long election campaign that has now given the United States its first African-American president in Barack Obama, I do wonder if there is a message for Indian politicians from the messenger of change… at least from the way he ran for the White House.

Obama aka ‘the digital candidate’ left no stone unturned in the race to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For a man who managed to draw crowds in tens of thousands wherever he spoke, Obama realized early in his campaign that his message of ‘change’ had to spread well beyond Democrats and the undecided voters. He wanted America’s youth to be on board and he ensured they did.

He reached out to them by making himself accessible online. Obama used Web 2.0 with a passion, engaging and interacting with them on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter and also used new platforms like podcasts, online video and text messages to get his message across.

So, is there a lesson there for Indian politicians, especially the younger lot led by Rahul Gandhi?

Rahul and his team of young Congress leaders like Milind Deora, Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia are known to data-mine and number crunch to understand their support bases. Even the BJP’s Arun Jaitley is said to maintain an extensive data base of electorates and voting patterns in states and constituencies.

Some of them have Facebook groups dedicated to them, but none with more than 500 supporters- a pittance in comparison to Obama’s three million.

Are Indian politicians missing out on an opportunity at a time when voter apathy is only growing? There are actually messages on Rahul Gandhi’s Facebook group page (which has less than 100 members) where a member has requested him to log on so they can interact with him.

So why not organize their appeal for votes in a more effective manner?

Not only will they be reaching out to an enormous and often untapped vote bank, (India has about 50 million internet users according to a Research and Markets report) but they will also be able to build a database which can prove invaluable in the future.

Obama went as far as hiring Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook as his online campaign strategist.

I’m not sure if Mr. Hughes will be available for the Indian general elections, but isn’t a future Prime Minister ready to take his campaign online?

13 comments

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Someone other than Rahul should emerge.
His family faked sirname of Gandhi.
They were Gandy. Indira was Nehru and
her susband Phiroze was Gandy.
When Manilal Gandhi(Mahatma’s son) met them
in Durban on a ship during the Suez war
the couple were Miss Indira Nehru and Mr Phiroze Gandy.

Posted by j v desai | Report as abusive

I think tapping into a vote bank of 50 million people would do wonders for any campaign. Hope your blog post inspires candidates to use the internet to reach out.

Posted by Sehrish Shaban | Report as abusive

I do agree that the time has come to embrace new methodologies in reaching out to the over 1 billion population that makes up the subcontinent. But honestly speaking, when we have only 5.2% of the population that can be certified as internet users, we have a long way to go before Web 2.0 becomes the mainstream medium for harnessing voter suffrage.

What “the digital candidate” did manage to do however, was couple the use of the internet alongside television ad campaigns that penetrated deep into the heart of so called ‘red’ states like Virginia and Colorado (leaving them as swing states henceforth); a grassroots philosphy that enabled door-to-door campaigning, and decisive organizational capabilities raising over 600 million dollars in campaign finance.

If a Rahul Gandhi or a Sachin Pilot understood the combination of factors involved and attempted similar cohesive and organized campaigning, then we’d have not only the most formidable candidate in the history of our country yet, but also a truly inspirational movement to boot.

Posted by Shloka | Report as abusive

Q. Will Indian politicians follow in Obama’s e-footsteps?
A. No

Moving on..

Posted by Nikhil Sharma | Report as abusive

Your article encourages a valuable dialogue and a timely topic of discussion. However, not only do I agree that the number of internet users in India is too small, especially relative to our population; expecting the use of Web 2.0 in attracting any sizable voting base from our populace is overly optimistic (at least for this upcoming general election).

Your article did get me rethinking about “E-Democracy”—something I had first started thinking about when I read “Being Digital” a book published in 1996, well ahead of its time by Nicholas Negroponte (for those unfamiliar, check out his book review on http://www.scottlondon.com/reviews/negro ponte.html)

E-Democracy is about using the internet and Web 2.0 technology as a channel to eliminate some of the distance constraints in direct democracy and enhance political accessibility, increase citizen dialogue and build more expansive and direct participation in public policy decision-making. Readers from the US who have ever spent even an hour watching C-SPAN will see where I’m coming from.

I would like to see the e-footsteps continue well beyond election campaigning and into use by the current political leaders like Rahul Gandhi or a Sachin Pilot in attempting to bring our government closer to the governed.

Now, when we have an active localized group on Facebook or MySpace discussing and debating issues like the “Maharashtra governments’ plans to transform Mumbai by imposing a fine on residents who hang their clothes out of the balcony, or those who have not painted their buildings in years”–that’s when I raise the praise flags & call it a truly inspirational movement!

Posted by Saket | Report as abusive

Sakshi, you are talking about a group of people who, if I remember correctly, were given laptops by the ministry of statistics and programme implementation but let the machines collect dust as they did not know how to switch them on.
I agree the younger Facebook and Orkut generation are better connected and more in pace with changing times. And even the older generation of Indian politicians are slowly shaking off complacency to become more net savvy. But to use this new-found knowledge of the WWW as a tool in poll campaigning is asking a bit too much of our leaders. We will get there in time.

Posted by Godzilla 2.0 | Report as abusive

Very good article. We Indians will regain all our past prosperity very soon. We have no egos…we are willing to do any jobs. We need good leaders…

Posted by stanley v k | Report as abusive

Sakshi, my question to you is why restrict ourselves to Facebook alone. We know that there is lot of latent potential in Orkut too ad other social media platforms??

Omar Abdullah had started his blog and the had to shut the blog for reasons better known to him.

Would like to have your view on this??

Yes I think Indian Political heroes will have to do this.
This can now be done in an efficient way.
Take for an instance I read Aamir Khans blog there he has 2500+ comments on a post so why can politicians do so ?

Change is permanent.

Quite ”revealing” comments here – -

Don’t worry, if the past is any indication, Indian politicians, like their counterparts in other fields, will follow in the footsteps of the Americans.

Indians are the biggest ‘copy-cats’; but they won’t admit it because they consider themseves SOOOOO ”HUMBLE” and ”HOLY” !!

- they are the biggest H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-T-I-E-S !!!!!!!!

Posted by BS BUSTER | Report as abusive

This may not work in India as India is a country with more than 50% of them are below povery line ir less than a dollor/day earning

In 2004 Ms. Sonia Gandhi launched the website http://www.JoinCongress.com which has now come up with Social Networking concept. May be it will help the new congress leaders.