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'Professional training should be imparted to use the social media platform correctly'

Thursday, October 11, 2018

NARESH ARORA talks to PHILIP VARGHESE on various issues, including political campaigning online gaining momentum in India, its misuse, the #MeeToo movement in India and political campaigning on social media in the future.

With political parties gearing up for the big battle in 2019 Assembly Elections, social media is one of the biggest ammunition for parties to target the vast online audience through various campaigns. The social media has also upped the ante on the #MeToo movement, which has spread to Bollywood and the media industry.    

Establishing himself as a well-known and trusted name in the field of digital marketing, Naresh Arora, a digital media expert and political campaign strategist, has diversified into the sphere of political digital media campaign management. His first project was the Punjab Assembly Elections 2017, followed by spearheading the Gurdaspur By-Elections 2017 and Himachal Pradesh Assembly Elections 2017, which saw him establish himself as a social media strategist to reckon with, backed by astute campaign management and out-of-the-box approach towards conceptualising plain looking ideas! What followed was the success of more political digital campaigns, including Punjab Municipal Elections 2018 and Shahkot By-Elections 2018 with Arora delivering comprehensively conceptualised campaigns.Arora's journey in the realm of politics has been meeting challenges head on, which is evident from his choice of taking up the digital media campaign management of Congress Party, starting with Punjab, despite its history of having negligible social media presence. This ability of working his way around challenges has rewarded him immensely, with Arora being credited with reviving the fortunes of Congress Party in many states with his aggressive campaign management.

Currently Arora is handling the digital media campaign management for a spectrum of prominent leaders all across India, and leading digital political campaigns in Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. Arora is also the digital media expert of Punjab Government’s drug fighting outfit Special Task Force(STF), heading its various engaging digital campaigns.

Excerpts from the interview:

What made you chose 'political social media campaigning' as a career?
A keen interest in politics and extensive knowledge of it throughout my school and college days made me consider the sphere of political digital campaign management as a career option. In fact, I wanted to go beyond just the simple idea of campaigning and utilise the power of social media to curtail the disparity of representation of common man's views in the largest democracy of the world, which made me take up to this field. I was pretty convinced in my head that this field held immense promise, hence decided to follow my instinct.

Do you think political campaigning online is gaining momentum in India?
Yes, absolutely! As the user base of social media in the country is expanding, this medium is gaining validity of bringing about change in the dynamics of political campaigning, especially in relation to youth prowess of India. Political outfits in India are realising the scope and scape of online political campaigning to reach a wider base of electorate.

Do you think political campaigning through social media is also being misused? If yes,  how?
Certainly. The platform is being misused by untrained members of political parties. People who tend to use these forums consider themselves experts of it hence the misuse. Considering the widespread reach of social media, professional training needs to be imparted and undertaken to use the platform correctly. Also these platforms are misused by parties to pursue their agendas and manipulate their reach by orchestrated attempts without caring about the repercussions of their steps.

Which among the social media platforms is more used by political parties?
Facebook is the most used platform as it caters to the masses and the number of users outscores those of Twitter and Instagram, hence it is most utilised by political parties to put across their agendas.

Among the political campaigning projects which was the most challenging one to manage?
I would name two: The first one was while campaigning for an 8th time sitting Congress MLA from Himachal Pradesh. Since Congress was fighting a mammoth anti-incumbency and the onus of traversing through such odds was a task in itself, but we managed to clinch a very well-fought victory in the end.

The second most challenging project was for the Congress’s Manifesto campaign in Chhattisgarh, which required the undertaking of an enormous task of making the campaign relatable and popular throughout the state.

The #MeeToo movement in India also has gained steam and it has even impacted the political, Bollywood and media industry. How would you react out to the whole scenario of victims making complaints online?
Well, I would say that social media has given a platform and a voice to these victims.  Such is the power of social media forums that #MeToo has gained such unimaginable strength and support, which probably would not be possible with conventional media channels. Women, men are sharing their experiences everyday, which has resulted in #MeToo becoming a pan-India movement. About time, I would say!

Do you think the Election Commission has been keeping a good-enough watch over the social media campaigning by political parties with an eye on the 2019 elections?
In my experience and observation, I haven’t come across much vigilance by the Election Commission since 2017 elections. Neither have I observed Election Commission taking action against measures which have been unhealthy for the process of elections. Since we headed into elections in five states in 2018 and the General Elections in 2019, it is yet to be seen what measures is the EC is taking for the same.

The use of emotions in the social media for political campaigning has always been a cautious move. What is your take on it?
In a diverse and multi-cultural nation such as ours, emotions do play a great and defining role in political campaigning. As is with advertisement in other spheres, political advertising also draws strength from being able to make a connect with the target audience. And connection is based on emotions. However, anything overdone turns out to be farcical and ludicrous.

You are the digital media expert of Punjab govt’s drug-fighting outfit Special Task Force (STF). Tell us your experience about it.
The experience has been incredibly nice. We expanded our own learning dimensions with this association and majorly so because STF was headed by ADGP Sh.Harpreet Singh Sidhu, who  led a task force of extremely efficient officers.  Under these efficient officers, STF’S undertakings such as the DAPOs and Tu Mera Buddy campaigns became movements in the state. On a personal level, I found the experience of working with STF enriching, as most of the officers were forthcoming about social media usage to further the cause of drug menace in the state and were open to using the platform to bring about a positive change in the society.

How do you see political campaigning on social media in the future?
I think political campaigning is going to acquire magnanimous proportions in the future. As technology advances and social media interaction gains deeper foothold aided by technology, political campaigning will also acquire prominence. I would expect the political class of our country to understand the intricacies of this platform, rather than leaving it under novice supervision. BJP has take the lead in understanding the potential of social media but only guided by a professional approach, hence other parties also need to follow suit and get their leaders and workers professionally trained in the medium to use it adeptly! The right attitude and approach will add profundity and purpose to the political campaigning environment on social media, benefiting both the political sphere and the electorate.

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