COVID-19: With no scope for public meetings, political activities go online

Yunus Y. Lasania

Hyderabad: With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic halting or restricting political activities politicians have been forced to adopt online connect with the constituents.

While parties in power can at least claim good governance (which is always up for debate), opposition parties have no other option but to attack ruling parties online, or to interact with the public at large only on the internet. “With no political activities being permitted anywhere, the entire focus has now shifted online, which is where our party members are very active,” said a senior TDP leader from AP.

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As an example, the TDP leader pointed out that his party workers are always ready to counter the ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) in AP, especially about its statements with regard to dealing with COVID-19. “There is no activity from the last four months, so we have no other option. COVID-19 has also given ruling parties a lot of power, which they can use to clamp down on the opposition,” he added.

While the TDP has always been tech-savvy, leaders from THE other parties have also become more active on social media platforms.  An example is Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) chief and member of parliament from the Nalgonda Lok Sabha seat N. Uttam Kumar Reddy’s Twitter account. Post lockdown, the MP’s Twitter timeline has become more active, especially in his criticism of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS).

Though Uttam Kumar Reddy has upped his online activities his presence pales in comparison with leaders like TRS working-president and State IT minister K. T. Rama Rao (KTR), who has 2.4 million (24 lakh) followers. KTR, who is known to be tech-savvy, is among one of those politicians who always maintained a good online presence. The technology-loving TDP supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu has 4.7 million followers on Twitter.

Among public representatives, one cannot ignore the presence of Hyderabad MP and AIMIM national president Asaduddin Owaisi, who has been active on the internet for a long time. His Twitter account, which has 1.5 million followers, is very active, where the MP constantly Tweets and questions the Centre on a host of issues. Before the Chinese app TikTok was banned, Owaisi also had a presence on that app, which was widely used by people. Owaisi’s FB account also has 3 million followers. 

Twitter and Facebook are the two most common platforms, apart from other apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, which party leaders across the spectrum are using.

A political consultant who worked in Hyderabad with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), said that increasing a party’s online presence is also a matter of money power, which often small organizations lack.  

“For example, in Bihar where elections are due, some opposition parties do not have the means to take up online or virtual campaigns like the BJP is doing. The BJP recently organised a massive virtual rally at 72,000 polling booths of prime minister Narendra Modi. Even to organize a party’s internet presence, it requires money,” he added.

With COVID-19 numbers increasing on a daily basis, it seems like political parties will have to master the online game, given that public interaction in any kind of way is unlikely to be permitted in the days to come. “One thing is for sure, we cannot run away from COVID-19. We have to take all precautions. Our responsibility is to undertake welfare programmes. Given the current situation participants in panel discussion are  9speaking on TV channels via apps like Zoom,” said TRS spokesperson M. Krishank.

The writer is a Hyderabad-based journalist, who has previously worked for The New Indian Express, The Hindu and Mint.

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