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March 2, 2014

Trinamool leads Bengal politicians on social media

Trinamool leads Bengal politicians on social media

Why do Bengal`s politicians simply love the social media? According to the figures of Census 2011, 8.3% of Bengal`s 2 crore homes have a computer or a laptop and 42.9% use a cellphone. Trai`s 2013 March report pegs Internet access by wireless phone subscribers in Bengal at 5 million.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee leads an eclectic mix of Bengal politicians now active on Facebook. She tops the list (6 lakh 25K likes) followed by Abhishek Banerjee (1 lakh 5K likes), Bimal Gurung (14K 936 likes), Subhendu Adhikary (12K likes) and Ritabrata Banerjee (11K followers). In Twitter, it is Derek O`Brien @quizderek (2.22 lakh), Tathagata Roy @tathagata2 (4K), KD Singh @kdsingh_india (2K), Dinesh Trivedi @DinTri (2K) and Abhishek Banerjee @destinationabhi (1K).

If you consider national political parties on Twitter, it`s BJP (@BJP4India) (3.7 lakh), Congress (@INCIndia) (1 lakh 32K), Trinamool (@AITCofficial) (5K) and CPM (@cpimspeak) (1K).

IRIS Knowledge Foundation and Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) study paper on social media and Lok Sabha elections in April 2013 first gave an indication of social media`s impact on politics and politicians. For Bengal`s 42 Lok Sabha seats, it found that four will be high impact seats, three medium impact and one low impact seat. Social media, it says, will have no impact on the remaining 36 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal. It also claimed that among Trinamool`s 19 Lok Sabha seats, social media played a major role in at least three wins; for CPM it was five. Back in 2009, hardly any politician was active on social media. They remained content with Internet web pages. Five years later, social media promises to be a game-changer.

The Census 2011 data also focused on a new aspect titled “Modes of communication, new additions in 2011”. It found that in Bengal`s 2,00,67,299 homes, 8.3% have computer or laptops and a forth of these computers are with Internet. But then, not everybody needs computers to log on to the net to access Facebook or Twitter. Around 49.2% of Bengal homes have a telephone, 42.9 % of them have cellphones and another 4% use both cellphones and landline phones. And it would be wrong to dismiss this as an urban phenomenon. Around 5.1% of Bengal`s 1,37,17,186 rural homes have a computer and 34.4% use a cellphone. The computer penetration in rural Bengal is the same as pan-India figures.

Derek O`Brien, Trinamool MP and an active member of social media, says, “It is a powerful tool which gives one an opportunity to listen and not just talk. It is a two-way communication medium.” Tamluk MP Subhendu Adhikari explains, “It gives me a reach beyond my electorate. If you ask specifically about Tamluk, it has a near 100% literacy figure. School education is a forte here. There is a computer in each school now. Every gram panchayat too has one. Over 40,000 skilled people are working in Haldia industrial zone alone. Social media gives me the bandwidth to interact with this electorate,” he said.

Ankhi Das, Facebook`s Public Policy director (India & South Asia), gives the larger picture. “In 2009, the popular vote of the BJP was 78 million and that of the Congress was 119 million. There was hardly anyone using Facebook at that time in India. That has changed now. Today, we have over 93 million people in India engaging actively every month on Facebook,” Das said.

With the election season fast approaching, the EC scanner wouldn`t be long off. Candidates are required to file affidavits in Form 26 at the time of filing of nominations. Para 3 of this Form requires the email ID of the candidate, if any, to be communicated to the Commission. The panel now mandates that authentic social media accounts of candidates should also be provided.

Published in The Times of India, 02.03.2014