Indian Prime Minister Candidate Uses the Web to Reach Voters

Indian prime ministerial aspirant Lal Krishna Advani is proving to be as much at ease with technology as with political maneuvering as he campaigns for a federal election that will start April 16.

The 81-year-old Advani of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blogs on political issues, and uses his Web site to recruit volunteers and link up to other bloggers.

Information on his campaign is available on video sharing site YouTube, as well as on social-networking sites like Orkut and Facebook.

In a letter on his Web site to online volunteers, Advani said the Internet is the most democratic of all the communication platforms invented.

The essence of democracy is people's participation, and no other medium has enabled two-way, interactive and participative communication in a way now made possible by the Internet, he added.

Other Indian parties, including the ruling Indian National Congress, are also trying to take advantage of the Internet through Web sites and videos on YouTube.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) recently launched a Web site with links to campaign video clips on YouTube, information on the party and its manifesto and a section for volunteers.

After the U.S. presidential election and the online campaign of President Barack Obama, the BJP and CPI(M) campaigns on the Web may appear amateurish in their scale and purpose.

But in a country where the use of technology by politicians is largely limited to the use of mobile phones, the use of the Internet for a political campaign reflects the growing importance of Internet users in the country's politics.

An online strategy alone cannot swing an election for any party in India, because of the low Internet penetration rate, said Kapil Dev Singh, country manager at research firm IDC India. Internet users have, however, emerged as a large enough segment in urban India that cannot be ignored by either politicians or marketers, he added.

The Internet will likely be just one element of a broader media strategy that will also include newspapers and TV, Singh said.

No single medium, whether TV or newspaper, can give the BJP complete coverage of voters across India, said Prodyut Bora, who looks after IT for the BJP, in an interview on Thursday. The party has to instead use a variety of TV channels, newspapers and the Internet to address various niches of voters, he added.

Internet users account for less than 4 percent of the country's population, but 60 percent of these users come from eight large metro areas, which account for 50 seats to the Lok Sabha, the house in the country's parliament that elects the prime minister.

India had 45.3 million active Internet users at the end of September last year, according to a joint annual survey of Internet users by research firm IMRB International and the Internet and Mobile Association of India.

Of the 45.3 million users, 42 million are in urban areas, according to the survey. More than 50 percent of urban users were in the 18 to 25-year-old age group, it said. Most of the young urban users would have recently qualified to vote.

"The additional cost of having an online campaign is not very high, so political parties will try to address this segment of voters consisting of professionals and students with the Internet as well," Singh said.

The importance of this segment in Advani's campaign was also evident when his party announced on Saturday various programs to help spread the use of IT in India.

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