Most parties are heavily spending on Instagram content, hoping to appeal to the younger generation.
Communally charged messaging delivered through dance, music and jazzy pop culture references tailor-made to appeal to youthful voters – this is how election season is playing out on Instagram.
With younger audiences shifting to Instagram from Facebook, political parties have followed suit. India has the largest Instagram user population globally, edging ahead of the United States, and 79 percent of these users are in the 18 to 34 age group. As a result, many political campaigns are now designed to play out through reels and Instagram stories.
The BJP’s official Instagram handle, with 4.5 million followers, is a case in point. The election effort on Instagram began sometime in January, and every fifth or sixth post is a video. The frequency of posts increased as the elections drew nearer, with the Uttar Pradesh assembly election being the focus, closely followed by Punjab.
The party’s designated UP handle on Instagram has promoted 657 posts in the last 30 days, spending over Rs 1.5 crore on both Facebook and Instagram, according to Facebook’s ad library report. The language is geared towards derogatory, often communal, comments about the Samajwadi Party and the Congress – such as this video on the SP’s tenure which uses phrases like “gunda raj” alongside pictures of Muslim men. Another video on “mafia” rule under the SP used a photo of a man with a beard and skullcap on its thumbnail.
The BJP’s UP unit has also embraced meme culture to target opposition parties. This video, for example, was posted by both BJP India and BJP UP. The music is colloquial and the video claims to uncover the SP’s “secrets”, with lyrics like “gunda le aayi, mafia le aayi” and “kaamchori le aayi, seena zori le aayi”. Loosely translated: SP brings in mafia, gangsters, laziness and arrogance.
Similar songs were used here, to demonstrate how the state wants the BJP back in power.
Some posts highlight how the BJP purportedly eliminated “gunda raj”, the abrogation of Article 370, the successes of the Rafale deal, and achievements like the redevelopment of Kashi.
The party’s Uttarakhand handle on Instagram followed the same pattern, combining politics with hate speech. With a follower count of 17,500, it included posts with text like “Rawat ki sarkar me Jumme ki namaaz ki chutti BJP ki sarkar me egaas parv me avakash” (There is a holiday on Friday for namaz under Rawat’s rule, and under the BJP, we have a vacation on the festival of Egaas).
The BJP has spent Rs 2,37,476 on promoting 23 posts on Facebook and Instagram in the last 30 days.
BJP Uttarakhand’s timeline predominantly calls out the Congress, claiming Muslims were “favoured” under the Congress and that the BJP will not “neglect” Hindus if it comes to power. As with Uttar Pradesh, there’s a flavour of “Hindu khatre me hai” that dominates posts.
In contrast, the BJP’s efforts for its Goa and Punjab handles are more low-key. Most videos on the Goa page, for instance, are on the candidates contesting this election.
In Punjab, with the farm laws debacle fresh in public perception, the party’s official campaign video skips all mention of the laws. Instead, it highlights all the BJP has done for the Sikhs, such as opening the Kartarpur corridor. It also uses news clips on the farm laws being repealed with voiceovers proclaiming how the BJP “bowed down in front of Punjab’s stubbornness”.
For its Punjab content, the BJP has spent around Rs 1,46,343 over the last 30 days to promote 123 posts on Instagram and Facebook.
A social media specialist, who has worked on user engagement and growth on these platforms, told Newslaundry that the BJP is clearly looking to target the younger generation, or first- and second-time voters. To do this, the party uses colloquial language specific to each state, such as “gidda dance” for Punjabi videos and “qawallis and khadi boli” for UP videos.
Additionally, all the posts “make for amazing shareable content”, the specialist said, “which will probably be circulated on WhatsApp as forwards and appear organic”.
The Congress isn’t far behind in this race for engagement on Instagram. While its India page catalogues roadshows and speeches, state handles post state-specific reels, videos and other creative content.
UP Congress has 1,04,000 followers on Instagram, and offers up reels on what UP will be like under the party, videos of speeches and campaigns, photos of Congress leaders interacting with the public, and run-downs of proposed policies. The party has spent Rs 6,35,010 over the last 30 days to promote 36 posts on Instagram and Facebook.
Though the Congress hasn’t announced its chief minister candidate for UP, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is the face of its campaign blitz on Instagram, alongside the slogan “ladki hu lad sakti hu” (I am a girl, I can fight). Some posts target the animosity between the BJP and SP while promising that the Congress focuses on progress. There’s also a handful of memes on the condition of UP under the BJP.
What’s interesting in the party’s social media strategy is that it appears to focus more on its UP Instagram page rather than its official handle. This page, for instance, has 7,000-odd followers and is actively focusing on women empowerment with Priyanka Gandhi on the forefront. They too, like the BJP, are drawing comparisons between the BJP ideology and Congress’ ideology. The difference, they say, is clear. The page has spent Rs 44,43,201 on promoting 229 posts on Facebook and Instagram.
On its Punjab page – where the party has promoted 942 posts spending Rs 63,28,618 – the Congress tends towards videos of candidates, their speeches and policies. The Uttarakhand page is populated with videos, most of which have barely 2,000 views, while Goa has a mixture of videos and posts targeting the BJP and discussing issues like inflation.
The other main contender for Uttar Pradesh, the SP, does not have an Instagram account. Party chief Akhilesh Yadav has a personal account where he posts pictures from his campaign. Video content – the backbone of other parties’ campaigns – is absent.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which is contesting in all the states this election except Manipur, also uses reels and videos on its Instagram page with a focus on Punjab and Goa. Yet, when compared to the BJP, there’s a sad dearth of catchy pop culture content on its official handle.
But this isn’t true of its state handles on Instagram. UP, for example, has Sanjay Singh in the spotlight, with reels of his interviews and memes. They too are using pop culture references like ‘Yogi ji, tumse na ho payega’ (Yogi ji, you won’t be able to do it) in their reels and interestingly, these reels are some of the posts with the highest number of views. The AAP’s Punjab face, on Instagram and elsewhere, is Bhagwant Mann and its Instagram feed explains how the AAP will “bring a change”. Its Goa and Uttarakhand campaigns focus on the Delhi model.
Finally, there’s the Trinamool Congress which is contesting in Goa. The TMC Goa’s Instagram page has a bunch of videos in Bengali, though the state’s Bengali speakers comprise 0.4 percent of the total population, as per the 2011 census.
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