The Political 'Web' in India

CPIM supports free software, and promotes Mozilla Firefox.

Trinamool enlists the help of Hotmail founder Sabeer Bhatia.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a Facebook fan page. Narenda Modi, Nitin Gadkari, Sushma Swaraj, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee like this, as do 251, 352 others.

Techcircle.in takes a look at how the Web has become an integral part of political leaders and parties in India, even as results of the Assembly Elections 2011 come trickling in. In the process, we chance across the light side of social media – Mamata Banerjee following Shah Rukh Khan for one, or the Indian National Congress website borrowing icons from Google's corporate logos.

Online Donations

BJP is the only national political party in India to accept donations online. The others, including Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Communist Party India-Marxist (CPI-M), Communist Party India (CPI), Indian National Congress (INC) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) do not. (If a party is recognised in four or more states, it is declared as a "National party" by the Election Commission).

BJP's Facebook page is quite polished with Polls et al, and includes a call to donate money as well. Click on the button, and you are taken to a page within the party website where you can contribute to various schemes – from Aajiwan Sahyog Nidhi (Minimum INR 1,000) to Vishesh Sahyog Nidhi (INR 1,00,000+), plus any other amount you may voluntarily want to donate. You can come to the same page directly from the party website as well.

You do need to identify yourself (as per Election Commission mandates) here, but there is no real reason why you cannot pretend to be 'Mickey Mouse.' Or Dawood Ibrahim, for that matter, though, of course, your credit card information would go down on record. If you are raising your eyebrows at this, consider one of US President Barack Obama's campaign websites, which says federal law requires their best efforts to collect and report details of individuals whose contributions exceed $200 in an election cycle, and leaves it at that.

Payment is routed through CCAvenue in the BJP website, and yes, the transactions are Verisign secure, incase you were wondering. But wait. You have to take a pledge before you can actually donate, which includes among other things a subscription to the concept of a secular state and nation not based on religion, and a belief against discrimination based on religion, which, come to think of it, rules out quite a few party members from making the cut.

Social Media

Mamata Banerjee has been tweeting quite a bit off late. She even tweeted her landslide victory in the polls in Bengal, results of which were just announced. Ms Banerjee's Trinamool party triumphed over the ruling Left government, signalling the end of some 34-years of Communist regime in the state.

Unfortunately Didi's command of the Queen's language, often betrays her fire power. For example, "Congratulation Team India..." Wonderful gift for whole Indian..." says one of her tweets. One cannot help but ponder on the fate of the fractional Indians who must be so liberally scattered over the country. Or take this tweet for that matter – "So much busy for uncomming election. Hope regularly here after election. Keep the finger cross for me. Thank you for the support. Good night."

Incidentally Ms. Banerjee follows five people on Twitter. Lata Mangeshkar, Amitabh Bachhan, Shah Rukh Khan and Sachin Tendulkar apart, the only other person she tracks is Barack Obama. Trinamool's vice president quizmaster and TV personality Derek O'Brien more than makes up for Ms. Banerjee's reticence.

Ms. Banerjee's account is not verified by the San Francisco microblogging site, and someone may well be impersonating her, as claims Jayalalitha. Her party, the AIADMK triumphed in Tamil Nadu, as per results that came in earlier during the day. "I would like to clarify that I am not on Twitter and as such the tweeting purportedly done in my name is by an imposter or impersonator," Ms. Jayalalitha was quoted as saying earlier this year.

Tarun Kumar Gogoi won for the third consecutive time in Assam. While there is a Twitter handle for his namesake he has not tweeted yet. Gogoi is also absent in Facebook, though he does seem to have an Orkut account. Ms. Banerjee is also absent from Facebook, but a page called 'I was Alive when Mamata Banerjee became the CM of Bengal' was created within hours of the elections results confirming her win. Of course, Ms. Banerjee may not need Zuckerberg's help, she has the baap of social web technology, our very own Sabeer Bhatia helping her out. Bhatia is helping Ms. Banerjee build an interactive portal along with Trinamool's cyber team (which is all of two IIM students, but hey two students working on a cyber strategy is better than a couple of cadets in the bush).

LinkedIn is yet to be popular with the Indian politicalerati. Leaders of our political parties are yet to get a account with this popular networking site, and both Sachin Pilot and Kapil Sibal from our Department of IT and Communications have chosen to stay away. YouTube is also yet to catch up, probably because of the dismal state of bandwidth that does the rounds. Most of our political parties are yet to get their own channel on the Web's most popular video sharing site. BJP is an exception to this rule. Not only that, it also has an app for iPhones and iPads.

Online presence

One of the sites of the Indian National Congress party, found here blatantly flouts copyright and uses Gmail's red envelope icon with a lime-green and white embellishment as a visual element, enticing users to subscribe to the site. The same site has a press release section which was last updated on May 11th., but it still flashes a '2009' press release subject line on one of the headers. But then, while most of our political parties have an online presence, but quite a few of them do not update the sites regularly.

BJP's website seems to be the most savvy of them all. The CPI-M site supports free software, and the site is best viewed with Mozilla Firefox, it says. One hopes the party management understands that 'free software' does not translate into free as in free lunch, but leans more towards free as in 'free speech'.