The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party are waging a bitter battle to win the hearts of the electorate during February 7 election to the 70-member Delhi Assembly. The results will be announced on 10th February. The main fight is between BJP and AAP. The Congress is a like a bystander. The battle is being fought as much online as out on the streets of the capital. Log on to Delhi and it's a virtual war zone.
Which party dominates the trends on social media on a daily basis is watched closely as a sign of their reach and popularity. Both the parties have set up social media campaign teams for these elections. AAP has a 16-member team which is working round the clock to have "conversations" with Delhi, says Ankit Lal, who heads it and decides the day's agenda on a conference call with senior leaders.
"We also have 5,000 volunteers worldwide who are working to ensure that Arvind Kejriwal is Chief Minister of Delhi for a second term," he said. AAP launched itself with a strong social media presence - so Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp are old haunts. This election, they are also using Quora, a Q&A platform to "intellectually" engage with people. They have also launched a mobile app called Mango - they call it "aam admi ka radio" - where pre-recorded messages and clips from speeches of Kejriwal and other AAP leaders can be heard. There is a Mango website too. AAP's team also uses platforms Like Frankly.me - where questions are posted by viewers and the answers are given in a video selfie format by Arvind Kejriwal.
The Congress too has attempted to use Frankly.me, though its efforts on social media lag behind its rivals. Kiran Bedi, the BJP's Delhi face who is usually on active social media, has not chosen to answer questions this way yet. The BJP's state party office is massive in comparison to that of AAP, but their social media war-rooms are practically of the same size. The BJP also has 745 volunteers working full time on their social media campaign.
The BJP's main tools are Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp and its also sends SMSes. Sumeet Bhasin, the head of the BJP's social media campaign, insists that they do not indulge in negative campaigning at all. But there are charges and counter charges on a daily basis.
Money laundering charges against AAP
The campaign got uglier on Monday with AAP breakaway volunteer group AVAM (AAP Volunteer Action Manch) accusing the party of money laundering. Basing its charge on details of donations listed by AAP on its website, AVAM alleged donations worth Rs 20 million shown from companies which have no resources to make such donations.
The controversy had rival BJP at AAP's throat accusing it of hypocrisy regarding its transparent mode of funding. The Congress, too, attacked AAP for its alleged double-speak and demanded an immediate probe into the money trail.
Refusing to react directly to the charge, senior AAP members said the party has accepted every payment by cheque and asked for the donor's PAN card. Beyond that, it said, it didn't have the wherewithal to check the source of money. They added that AAP's accounts have been inspected twice by the home ministry and nothing wrong had been found with them. It insisted that it had nothing to hide and was open to a probe by a special investigative team that is monitored by the Supreme Court.
Modi cautions voters
prime Minister Narendra Modi cautioned voters in the capital against delivering a fractured mandate, saying they had already lost a year which had "set the state back by 25 years". Citing the "track record" of BJP-ruled states, Modi said a BJP government in Delhi would be "afraid of Modi" and perform. Addressing a rally, Modi said BJP had promptly resolved a long-standing water dispute between Delhi and Haryana. Hitting out at Aam Aadmi Party and Congress, he said BJP stood for development while the others had ushered in "dharna politics" and "policy paralysis".
All through his 35-minute speech, Modi made a case for absolute majority and warned voters against electing a confrontational government. "Give me a chance to serve you. You gave me all seven seats in the Lok Sabha elections. I'll pay you back with interest in the form of development. But if you make a government which (always) protests to remain in news and occupy TV space, it will be an impediment in the city's development," he said. With chief ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi looking on, he added, "Delhi needs a sensible and sensitive government. If there is a BJP government in Delhi, then those here will be afraid of Modi and the central government. But if there is someone who does not have anyone above him, then that person will bring in only devastation."
Kejriwal complains against BJP ad
A war of words broke out between AAP and BJP over an advertisement that the latter got published in papers on Monday. The ad caricatures Arvind Kejriwal, saying he is from a gotra (sub-caste) of upadravi (rowdy) people. Kejriwal, whose actual gotra is Agarwal, demanded an apology from BJP. He lodged a complaint with the Election Commission against BJP, which filed a counter-case alleging AAP had given a caste colour to the ad that showed Kejriwal waving a broom at a marching contingent during the Republic Day parade.