Celebs DON’T SELL & Pappu DIDN'T VOTE!

Published: June 1, 2009 - 14:26 Updated: July 1, 2015 - 16:08

A slew of celeb shows and crores spent did not attract young voters. Low voter turnout in Election 2009 proved that

ELECTION 2009 HAS seen a blitzkrieg of campaigning in new-age media. Political parties refused to stick to only the old ways of public meetings, high-decibel speeches, door-to-door campaign, billboards and expensive print advertisements. They also moved to the young and yuppie multi-media networks.

But did it work for the candidates? Did the use of fancy media tools help candidates clinch a victory? Not really.

Barack Obama's successful campaign on Facebook and cyberspace in the US presidential election served as an inspiration. This election saw the innovative use of cyberspace and new means to connect, especially with the youth - a substantial chunk of the electorate. From text messages, podcasts, voicemails, emails to bullish campaigns on the Internet, blogs and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, to television campaigns, the parties used every means to reach out to voters.

The most conspicuous was that of BJP's octogenarian PM candidate LK Advani (plus 81!) hogging the youthful virtual reality of cyberspace. Advertisements with the punchline: Mazboot neta, nirnayak sarkar (Strong leader, decisive government) with Advani looming in the background were splashed across cyberspace, TV and outdoor media. From Facebook and websites to blogs and mails, the veteran leader's ad was everywhere. Wrote Advani in his blog:  "The Internet has many attractive attributes, but the best perhaps is that it is owned neither by the government nor by any private media groups. It is open to all and in this sense it is the most democratic of all the communication platforms invented by mankind so far."

Said Siddharth Nath Singh, head of BJP's publicity cell: "We wanted to reach out to the youth, and the best medium for this was the Internet. We created websites of many candidates, and www.lkadvani.in got a lot of hits from people in India and abroad. We also used blogs and it was great to see responses from many youngsters who were keen on speaking with Advaniji. I agree that the campaign did not manage to get the expected results, but it is not a failure. I believe that the potential of such campaigns would be revealed in the long run."

Well, Singh might be trying to put up a brave face but the fact remains that the frenzied campaigns in new-age media did not catch the fancy of the electorate. BJP's campaign blitz failed to impress voters.

A blogger remarked, "Everyone knows that Advani is old. So, when he tweets the young voter, and flexes his muscles in a gym to prove he is young, it is amusing and shows his desperation." Probably, young faces like Rahul Gandhi, Priya Dutt and Sachin Pilot appealed to them more.

Candidates sent out text messages. According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), in February 2009, the number of mobile subscribers in India was a whopping 362 million. To the politicians this meant 362 million potential voters.

Arvind Kishore of Netcore Solutions, the agency which handled the BJP's sms campaign, said, "Campaigning through mobiles is an excellent and effective idea since the medium has an extensive coverage in both urban and rural areas. And it is the fastest medium. Through podcasts, text messages, voicemails etc, it is possible to gain lot of publicity in a very short time."

Voters in New Delhi were flooded with text messages from BJP candidate, Vijay Goel: Vote for youth, vote for development, vote for Vijay Goel. Others like Jagdish Mukhi, BJP candidate from west Delhi, launched their own websites to make their presence felt. Both Goel and Mukhi lost. In Karnataka, Congress' Krishna Byregowda, 36, a techie, put up a website and used sms, tweets, Facebook - a full-blown cyber-campaign. Did he win? No.

CPM's Md Salim had a bunch of JNU's SFI techies out there in Kolkata South with their laptops, projectors etc, to create a high-tech communication wave of sorts. They were reproducing his speeches in the back-lanes. They even improvised a poster of a Pink Floyd album. So what happened? Salim lost. "Damn sad. They can't even win in the campus with all these gadgets," said a JNU radical.
A large section of voters felt that the aggressive mobile campaigning was irritating. This had an adverse affect. "One or two sms-es in a day are still tolerable, but I was getting 10 messages a day. Whenever my cell beeped, it was some candidate informing me of his credentials. I was fed up. They should have realised that excess of everything is bad," said Kartikey Sharma, a first-time voter from New Delhi.

Celebrities were roped in. Tata Tea's Jaago Re (with NGO Janagraha), The Times of India's Lead India, Vote India Vote and Vote for India (among other media campaigns) were big campaigns. (Largely, in public perception, these so called 'social/bleeding heart causes' were directly linked to marketing/sales/advertising gimmicks.)

WHAT BEGAN AS a simple "Aapki qualification kya hai?" in a Tata Tea ad was expected to gather momentum so much so that people would question the ability of MPs. The idea was good. But, did it achieve the expected result?

Around Rs 90 lakh was spent in the election commission's 'Pappu campaign'. About 53 per cent of 1.1 crore voters in Delhi came out to vote. The voter turnout in Delhi was 47 per cent in 2004.

In the 'Jaago Re' campaign, right to vote is built up as the in-thing. It seeks to build peer pressure which would impel the young to vote. It was praised as a great ad but it did not make the kind of impact it was intended to. Even star power couldn't pull in voters. Mumbai recorded a poor 44 per cent turnout. Mumbai south (where the elite live) recorded a low turnout of 41 per cent. This in spite of a slew of media campaigns involving Bollywood celebs, candlelight vigils and petitions after 26/11.

Sandesh, a leading newspaper of Gujarat, initiated the Vote India Vote. Irfan Pathan, Prachi Desai and Paresh Rawal provided the quintessential "celeb quotient". With a mere 48 per cent voter turnout in Gujarat, it turned out to be a damp squib. In Bangalore (which is where the Jaago Re head office is located), the turnout was a mere 51 per cent. In UP, only 46 per cent turned up to vote.

Speaking to Hardnews, Jasmine Shah, project coordinator for Jaago Re campaign said, "Jaago Re was initiated to help people, especially the youth, in the process of registering their names in the electoral rolls and voting. It was not meant to be for merely informing people of the importance of being part of the system. We had six lakh voters registering online, which is unprecedented. Also, the issue of low turnout is due to the anomalies by the Election Commission. The scope of errors in the urban electoral rolls is at times as high as 50 per cent. People do not have voter IDs. Then there are those with IDs which have mistakes rendering them invalid. This discourages the voter."

This election also saw a slew of film stars "appealing" to vote. Aamir Khan came out to 'enlighten' the masses. In the ad, he plays with kids of all communities appealing to vote for the sake of their children. He stressed the diversity of Indian childhood through clichés. There were complaints: "Why should Muslim kids always wear skull caps? Why can't they wear T-shirts? If religious homogeneity is a factor, then why was Aamir Khan wearing jeans?"

Karan Johar's campaign turned out to be dud - unconvincing and shallow. The ad film featured popular stars like Sonam Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Farhan Akhtar. People were clearly not convinced by these filmy gimmicks. "How come the obscenely rich, flimsy, apolitical Bollywood stars, are suddenly so involved in Indian democracy's future? Are they really bothered about the fate of the millions below the poverty line?" said a Delhi-based activist.

"People may have loved the campaigns like Jaago re and Lead India but it is naive to expect them to go through the tiring process of getting themselves registered and voting just because they were supportive of the initiative. Even celebrities cannot bring about an attitudinal change even though people are in awe of them. Attitudinal change comes on a need basis, and only when a person feels the need to go out and vote, he/she would do so," suggests sociologist Prabha Dayal.

Ruchira Matoo, an architecture student from Bangalore, said, "Everyone keeps harping on get-out-and-vote. But do voters have a freedom of choice? The candidates we have are corrupt, tainted, and incompetent. Still, we have the same candidates from the same parties contesting elections and returning to power. Due to the lack of choices, people are not int"Give us good candidates, and we'll vote", that's what Gen Y demands. In spite of awareness campaigns, 150 out of the 543 MPs elected this time have a criminal background. Almost 300 MPs are crorepatis - representing whom? There are several dynasties across the parties which have entrenched their families in Parliament and in the power structure (DMK, for instance). The educational qualifications of many are also debatable. This is not entirely because people voted for them at will, but because they had no choice.

A member of the Centre for Media Studies, requesting anonymity, told Hardnews, "The role of campaigns is usually limited to informing and creating awareness about an issue, and they do not have persuasive or motivating power. They rarely change attitudes. I am not surprised by the low voter turnout. They are effective in disseminating information, but there is no evidence that they can bring about a change."

A slew of celeb shows and crores spent did not attract young voters.... Samarth Pathak Delhi

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This story is from print issue of HardNews