Social media snatching sheen of rally grounds in Mumbai

With people having a handy platform in the form of social media to discuss the election scenario, the poll rally hot spots in Mumbai, known for the public debates and deliberations, are losing their sheen.

PTI| Updated: Apr 09, 2014, 17:00 PM IST

Mumbai: With people having a handy platform in the form of social media to discuss the election scenario, the poll rally hot spots in Mumbai, known for the public debates and deliberations, are losing their sheen.

The Chowpatty, Kamgar Maidan and Shivaji Park were earlier some of the large venues for election rallies in the country`s financial capital, which is known for delivering unpredictable and astonishing results at the ballot box.

Keeping with the changing times, fast growing technology and people`s inclination towards social media, BJP has created a Facebook page `Uttar Madhya Mumbai` to give details of its candidate Poonam Mahajan`s campaigning.

Similarly, Mumbai North BJP candidate Gopal Shetty has a Facebook page with over 10,000 likes, sharing his campaigning with netizens.
NCP has an IT media setup for press conferences, while party chief Sharad Pawar`s Twitter handle is managed by experts where he speaks on key issues.

With polls in Mumbai scheduled on April 24, the campaigning by candidates is still restricted to padyatras and street-corner meetings instead of the high voltage rallies.

Congress candidate and Union minister Milind Deora, who is active on Twitter, lamented the current state of discourse in the country, calling it lacking in substance, and felt that the opinion cycles of people have shrunk.

"The manner in which we frame our opinion has changed drastically. Before 24x7 news channels, it was a 24-hour opinion cycle," Deora said.

Old timers recall that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Jaiprakash Narayan used to address rallies in Mumbai which would be the talking point of election debates throughout the country like the Bangladesh war, Emergency.
"Elections were fought on issues and policies earlier. But, now campaigning is personality driven," senior journalist Vasant Deshpande said.

"Rallies at Chowpatty, Shivaji Park have been banned. There is no open maidan (ground) for having political meetings in Mumbai now. Neither do people have time," Deshpande said.
Even posters, banners, painting of walls with poll slogans have since been banned by the Election Commission.

"Earlier, workshops, seminars were regularly held where candidates of all parties would be invited for debates and discussions. Mock parliament sessions would be held to create awareness among people about the proceedings of the Parliament sessions," Deshpande recalled.

Election meetings have now been restricted to Somaiya
ground in central Mumbai or MMRDA ground in Bandra-Kurla complex. Political parties complain that they are logistically inconvenient.

Several candidates have hired public relation agencies to provide information of their campaign to the media, sources said.

The most sensational election result had been in the 1967 Lok Sabha election where George Fernandes, the firebrand union leader beat S K Patil, known as the uncrowned king of Bombay.
George would paint walls of south Mumbai to strike a chord with the voters, with slogans that Patil was not invincible and he could be defeated, Deshpande said.

Baldev Khosa, a four-time Congress MLA who managed the Lok Sabha elections of late Sunil Dutt since December 1984 and is now coordinating the campaign for Gurudas Kamat, says he believes in personalised interaction with voters.

Social media has helped us to communicate faster and to a larger audience to come for our meetings. He said earlier they had to print a large number of pamphlets about their campaign, but now communication is easier via social media.

"In all election meetings, we have never taken the opponent`s name. We just speak about what work we have done and what we propose to do in future. Wherever we went, no one asked Gurudas Kamat where he was in the last five years because he has held janta durbars in each ward every three months in the last five years," Khosa said.

However, Rajesh Bandekar, a booth leader of Congress in suburban Mumbai, says social media has not affected the grassroot level cadre`s involvement in election campaigning.

"Not all are tech savvy. My job is to mobilise party workers when the candidate is visiting my area. We have to follow the procession, shout slogans, distribute pamphlets and on polling day, take people out for voting," he said.

According to him, the party cadre is being told to open Facebook accounts and register their IDs in the party office. "We are also told that we have to monitor what opposition parties say about us and respond back," he said.