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Under Covid cloud, political wars go digital
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AIADMK, DMK get head-start in rethinking campaigns for assembly elections amid restrictions
There has never been any love lost between the two Dravidian majors — the ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK. In fact, it is only turning more bitter with every passing day in the run-up to the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, scheduled in the summer of 2021. There are also bypolls to be held following the deaths of two DMK members in February as well as local body polls, for which dates have yet to be announced.

With Covid restrictions likely to remain for months, the digital battle has already been unleashed. The AIADMK, this week, finally got into the act of reorganising and restructuring its IT wing. The much-awaited move saw the wing being divided into four zones to be headed by four energetic young leaders, who have been active within the party at various levels.
The ruling party’s belated move is aimed at taking on M K Stalin and his DMK, whose IT wing, headed by the party’s MLA from Madurai Central, P T R Palanivel Thiagarajan, has established itself over the past couple of years, up to the booth level in panchayats. DMK's well-oiled machinery got further support when the party roped in renowned poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) early this year.
The DMK was also quick to latch on to the Covid crisis through its campaign ‘Ondrinaivom Vaa’, which claims to have helped thousands affected by the pandemic. The opposition party's initiative even prompted a Congress insider to comment that DMK has already started investing its efforts by directly reaching out to the people, to capture power in the next assembly elections.

Diving into the DMK strategy

* DMK's IT wing is led by MLA P T R Palanivel Thiagarajan with district-level office-bearers in all 65 party districts. Each district-level unit has an IT coordinator, two deputy coordinators and a coordinator for every assembly constituency.

* Most office-bearers are below 30 and graduates or post graduates.

* Party has roped in poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC in preparation for upcoming polls.

* Used the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown to quickly connect with people through ‘Ondrinaivom Vaa’ (Let’s come together) campaign.

But the ruling party remains unperturbed by these allegations. “The AIADMK has always pioneered the use of technology not just in electioneering, but also in building the party. Now, under the dual leadership of chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and deputy CM O Panneerselvam, the AIADMK will only aggressively grow further and will go all out in ensuring a massive victory in 2021 for the party,” said Aspire K Swaminanthan, the party’s first IT wing secretary, now heading the newly created Chennai zone, which includes the neighbouring Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts.

Post Covid, campaigns are going to be predominantly IT-driven, with 80% of electioneering approach revolving around digital, plus local cable and radio

Jhon Arokiasamy, Perception strategist, JPG-PAC
To match its formidable opponent, the ruling party is seeking IIM and other MBA graduates to helm the e-war. “The future is e-rallies. You cannot have somebody holding a rally on the ground with Covid restrictions. Dynamics are totally changing. Election campaign is purely on data. We will club mobile data as well as performance data to say, ‘ta-ta’ to the opposition,” said AIADMK spokesman and IT wing’s Vellore zone secretary M Kovai Sathyan.
“The IT wing is much more powerful now with all four talented secretaries. We are going to combat this digital war right, left and centre. The DMK should be ready to face it. Prashant Kishor lacks knowledge of TN politics. We know the ground politics,” said AIADMK IT wing’s Coimbatore zone secretary Singai G Ramachandran.

AIADMK in the digital space

* AIADMK IT wing restructured into Chennai, Vellore, Coimbatore and Madurai zones, each led by a zonal secretary and comprising 10 to 18 party district units. More staff to be appointed soon.

* Major campaigns include ‘Olirum nigazhkalam, milirum varungalam’ (Shining today, glittering tomorrow) and ‘Thodarattum nallatchi, sezhikkattum Tamilagam’(Let the good governance continue and Tamil Nadu flourish) during the 2016 polls.

* Campaigns included 2-3 minute videos on themes whetted by ex-CM J Jayalalithaa connected to tangible achievements of the party.

But won’t the move to appoint IT secretaries for four different zones, without a state level leadership to head the wing, result in each pulling in different directions? “AIDMK has successfully sustained itself under a dual leadership for three-and-a-half years. Multiple or combined leadership is the way forward. When the goal is common, who leads is not an issue,” asserted Swaminathan.
The developments in the AIADMK come at a time when the Tamil media has been widely speculating about trouble between the DMK’s IT wing and Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC. Thiagarajan, however, denied any such trouble within the party. “There are no real differences, since I have known PK since 2016. They are here to provide us some leverage and support,” he told TOI recently.
And while everyone waits for the Covid cloud to blow over, one thing is clear: Electioneering may never be the same again. Perception strategist Jhon Arokiasamy of JPG-PAC (Political Advocacy Committee), agreed. “Post Covid, campaigns are going to be predominantly IT-driven, with 80% of electioneering approach revolving around digital plus local cable and radio,” he said. Though elections were held in the thick of Covid in some countries like South Korea, electoral markets abroad are different. “Here cadres are not going to be as disciplined,” said Arokiasamy.
In the days to come, other parties too are likely to crowd digital walls, leaving voters gasping for some non-political space.
Illustration: Shinod Akkaraparambil
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