India's Aam Aadmi Party - Using Digital Media Platforms for Outreach

The Delhi Legislative Assembly has long been dominated by one of India’s two main national parties: the Indian National Congress (INC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). However, the two parties’ influence has shrunk in recent local elections, as minor and regional parties have taken advantage of a shifting political landscape and have utilized a strategic approach to digital technologies to improve their campaigns. For example, all of the major parties in the state of Bihar strengthened their social media presence in preparation for the legislative assembly election in 2015. Efforts include graphical representations of the work done by their parties on Facebook, as well as interactive and informative messages on the mobile application WhatsApp, a mobile messaging application where parties can store and send messages to long lists of volunteers, members and supporters.[1]

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has had particular success using social and digital media platforms to share their anti-corruption message and empower volunteers. The AAP, which formed as a political party in 2012, identified transparency as an important citizen interest, and effectively used Facebook and Twitter campaigns to share that message with its base supporters.

AAP’s team of social media volunteers cultivated a global audience for the party, and although not all were voters, these supporters were able to donate both funds and volunteer expertise.[2] The party’s competence in recruiting volunteers was decisive in helping the party subsequently contact voters, using many tech tools including WhatsApp.[3] When AAP had an event or needed volunteers, WhatsApp helped them quickly and easily send a mass message to all of their activists.

The party’s investment in social and digital media paid off in the December 2013 Delhi assembly elections, where AAP surprised many pundits by winning 28 seats — second only to BJP’s 31 seats — and forming a minority government with other smaller parties.[4] However, the coalition folded fewer than two months into governing after AAP leaders tried to pass large-scale anti-corruption legislation. The government’s collapse and a poor showing during national elections in 2014 meant many were ready to write AAP off.[5] However, party leaders held Mohalla Sabhas and Delhi Dialogues — town hall meetings to encourage citizen participation in decision making — throughout 2014, and instead of diminishing into obscurity, the AAP’s overwhelming performance in February 2015 saw them win 67 of 70 seats in the Delhi legislature.[6] The party’s success demonstrated a clear mandate from citizens interested in the party’s “common man” identity and transparency platform.[7]

[1] Prashant Kumar, “Bihar polls: Taking cue from PM Modi, political parties take election battle to ‘virtual media,'” The Economic Times, 2015,  http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/bihar-polls-taking-cue-from-pm-modi-political-parties-take-election-battle-to-virtual-media/articleshow/47642349.cms

[2] Somu Kumar, “Technology, the Savior for Smaller Political Parties,” Times of India, 2013, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/nri/contributors/contributions/somu-kumar/Technology-the-savior-for-smaller-political-parties/articleshow/25594455.cms.

[3] Kayla Ruble, “WhatsApp and Social Media Could Determine India’s Elections,” Vice News, 2014, https://news.vice.com/article/whatsapp-and-social-media-could-determine-indias-elections.

[4] Jason Burke, “Aam Aadmi ‘Common Man’ Party to Form Government in Delhi,” The Guardian, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/23/aam-aadmi-party-government-delhi.

[5] Rama Lakshmi, “Delhi’s Common Man Party Government Quits,” Washington Post, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/delhis-common-man-party-government-quits/2014/02/14/4f815ccc-9595-11e3-ae45-458927ccedb6_story.html.

[6] Shubhomoy Sikdar, “AAP Launches Delhi Dialogue,” Hindu News, November 12, 2014, accessed June 8, 2015, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/aap-to-launch-delhi-dialogue-campaign/article6590889.ece; Rajesh Menon, “8 Marketing Lessons From the AAP’s Stunning Victory in the Delhi Elections,” Quartz India, February 12, 2015, http://qz.com/342798/8-marketing-lessons-from-the-aaps-stunning-victory-in-the-delhi-elections/.

[7] Soutik Biswas, “Delhi Election: Arvind Kejriwal’s Party Routs Modi’s BJP,” BBC News, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-31294500; Rajesh Menon.

Key Takeaways

  • Responsive parties can use social media to identify citizen interests and share their message with a broad audience;
  • Diversifying volunteer and support mobilization through social media, mobile applications, and traditional outreach tactics can increase participation among different demographics; and
  • Parties benefit when they meet people where they are; digital platforms and social media events, such as Twitter Townhalls, can expand citizens’ access to in-person meetings and events.