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A monarch, his challengers and the social media foot soldiers

Ganesh Bhalerao is a cartoonist hoping to go viral in the battle to secure Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election when India votes over the next two months.

Hired by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to find amusing ways to lionise Modi or lampoon opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, Bhalerao is a social media warrior in an election campaign being fought online as never before.

“Political parties are realising the importance of cartoons as they elicit a huge response,” the 29-year-old former art teacher told Reuters while feverishly sketching a piece glorifying the Modi government for ordering the recent air strikes against Pakistan. Cartoons posted on BJP-run Facebook pages, Twitter handles and WhatsApp groups reach millions, Bhalerao told Reuters as he worked in his apartment in Pune. “A cartoon conveys the message of a 500-1,000 word article in just a minute,” he said.

Each day Bhalerao reads the local newspapers, watches the television news, and checks his WhatsApp messages, seeking ideas for an image or issue that might resonate with supporters of the BJP. Being a Modi supporter himself makes it easier. Like the BJP, Gandhi’s Congress Party and other rivals have their own armies of artists, video editors and journalists to create online content for the social media war.

“The larger audience is now more inclined to short videos, cartoons and visuals,” Diptansu Chaudhury told Reuters in Kolkata, where he heads the IT wing of Trinamool Congress.

Limited oversight

India is by far the world’s biggest democracy, but most of its population belong to lower income groups. And, at a time when more mature democracies than India’s are grappling with the impact of social media, there are concerns about the electorate’s susceptibility to false messages spread online.

The EC has asked candidates to report their spending on social media. It also requires them to seek approval for advertisements.

The code of conduct will apply for online campaigns too, the commission had said earlier.

Source: The Hindu