The political parties in Kerala had to endure a learning curve when it came to the election campaigning for the local body polls in the state. Covid protocols pushed the campaigning into online mode and into the social media, where the rules are a bit different as compared to the face-to-face campaigns that are common with the local candidates. Strict instructions enforced by the Election Commission had pushed the candidates in a corner, mainly because the local candidates often ride on the popularity wave of their more popular leaders during the campaigning. With the social distancing norms, the senior leaders couldn’t popularise their party candidates as much as many of them wished they could.
However, the fact of the matter was that a few of the popular leaders — MPs, MLAs and party leaders — have been pushed into a corner by the local candidates. The local poll participants pushed the social media campaigning on to the seniors, asking the latter to make short videos endorsing them. With the local polls happening in around 21,900 local bodies in the state, the few leaders who are adept at social media faces a tough time with candidates often pressuring them into doing it.
Thiruvananthapuram MP and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor had earlier tweeted that he made individually tailored videos for 183 candidates until December 6. “It’s now 183 individually-tailored video recordings I have issued as of yesterday, in the course of online campaigning,” he had said. He added that he had made videos mostly for those contesting from Thiruvananthapuram, as well as those from Attingal, Idukki, Kochi, Kozhikode, Malappuram, and Palakkad — as per requests.
According to the author and politician, candidates contact him through social media, and he makes tailored videos that are then shared on Facebook, WhatsApp and other such popular platforms. Tharoor said that such videos are drawing a good response. According to many experts, WhatsApp has been one of the go-to social media apps for several political parties. Campaigners and youth members add voters to a WhatsApp group created specifically designed for campaigning. In these groups, several messages, information and videos by party members are shared. Interestingly, no one knows whether the information shared is factual or not.
Apart from the Thiruvananthapuram MP, Kollam Member of Parliament NK Premachandran has also been an important contributor for the UDF. He had earlier told media, that the norm was recording his speeches while speaking at public locations. Now, since demands have increased, he records the endorsement videos at home. He would start work on the videos after returning home from work and freshening up. Premachandran added that his wife, son, and daughter-in-law are his helpers in this venture that would result in him making almost “a hundred videos” every day. He said that he tries his best to avoid repetitions in the videos.
Meanwhile, MLAs such as VT Balram (Thrithala), PC Vishnunadh (Chengannur), Ramesh Chennithala (Haripad) and former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy are involved in the campaign process as well. They participate in both online and offline campaigns, they cater mostly to the local candidates within their constituencies.
The social media influencing is not limited to UDF leaders, since Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran and Agriculture Minister VS Sunil Kumar are active in their endorsements. While they are busy with ministerial duties, they still find time to make videos catering to the local candidates. So are many others. While the big names’ endorsement goes a long way for a local body candidate, some small leaders do their part as well in the campaigning.
Many people across the state have access to the Internet and to social media. This helps political parties in a big way. If not counting the unreasonably large number of videos they have to make, it is an advantage. Politicos can join virtual rallies from the comfort of their homes and reach out to voters directly, whilst sitting many kilometres away. This also saves politicians a lot of time, as they do not have to travel from one part of the state to another for campaigning.
The problem here is that not many are making such videos, and the few that do are extremely overworked. Moreover, since the election is happening in three phases, the work is cut out for the ‘video influencers’.
The first phase of polling is happening in Alappuzha, Idukki, Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta. After ten hours, the five districts have recorded an average of 71.01% polling.