28 February 2022 | 3 min read
In 2017, Cpt. Amarinder Singh led the Indian National Congress to a sizable victory against the incumbent Shiromani Akali Dal government. In the final year of his tenure, however, cracks began to develop between him and his party colleague Navjot Singh Sidhu. At the time a minister in Singh’s cabinet, Sidhu successfully urged the INC leadership to remove Singh from the Chief Minister’s post in September 2021.1 Shortly thereafter, INC appointed Charanjit Singh Channi as Punjab’s Chief Minister for the few months leading up to the assembly elections––Channi is the first Dalit CM in a state with nearly 32% of the population belonging to the Scheduled Caste (SC) community.2 After his deposition, Singh went on to launch a party of his own, the Punjab Lok Congress. He entered into an alliance with the BJP, soon after the latter repealed the contentious farm laws passed in 2020. Seeking to benefit from the SC vote, the Akali Dal formed an alliance of their own––with the Bahujan Samaj Party––which drew a blank in the 2017 elections.3 Coming to the Aam Aadmi Party, which contested its first ever elections in Punjab in 2017 and emerged as the second largest party after the Congress, it is determined to expand its electoral footprint outside of Delhi. Unlike in 2017, AAP has named a Chief Ministerial candidate this time––its sole Lok Sabha MP representing Sangrur constituency, Bhagwant Mann. With a crowded field of four major parties and alliances, the upcoming elections in Punjab promise to be significant for the region’s politics. In this context, looking at the social media presence of these parties can offer crucial insights into party strategy and voter outreach.
Cpt. Amarinder Singh’s new party, Punjab Lok Congress (PLC), has taken over at least 17 Indian National Congress (INC) district pages on Facebook. In other words, PLC’s social media team has renamed INC district pages to PLC district pages. A probable explanation for this is that despite leaving INC, Singh and his team had access to these pages and used them to their advantage. Most of these pages were created in 2018, but in the last two months, as mapped in Table 1 below, the names and the display pictures have been changed to reflect the PLC’s takeover. We see that the messaging is strongly centred around Singh and his prior accomplishments. Interestingly, none of the earlier content has been deleted where Singh (who was the then Punjab CM) and INC leaders are being congratulated for inaugurating projects, announcing schemes and carrying out other activities on behalf of the party. It is still early to tell, though, what the impact of Singh’s departure from INC would mean for its social media presence, but there is indication that in many districts, the party would have to start from scratch, for instance in Pathankot, Kapurthala, Mohali and more.
Table 1: Some examples of PLC name-changing INC district pages
|District||Old name||New name||Date of change|
|Pathankot||District Congress Committee Pathankot||Punjab Lok Congress Pathankot||22 December 2021|
|Gurdaspur||Gurdaspur Congress Page||Punjab Lok Congress Gurdaspur||22 December 2021|
|Amritsar||District Congress Committee Amritsar Urban||Punjab Lok Congress Amritsar Urban||18 December 2021|
|Amritsar||District Congress Committee Amritsar Rural||Punjab Lok Congress Amritsar Rural||22 December 2021|
|Tarn Taran||District Congress Committee Tarn Taran||Punjab Lok Congress Tarn Taran||22 December 2021|
|Kapurthala||District Congress Committee Kapurthala||Punjab Lok Congress Kapurthala||22 December 2021|
|Jalandhar||District Congress Committee Jalandhar Urban||Punjab Lok Congress Jalandhar Urban||18 December 2021|
|Hoshiarpur||District Congress Committee Hoshiarpur||Punjab Lok Congress Hoshiarpur||22 December 2021|
Image 1: PLC renames INC Mohali district page
Campaigning on social media
On the other hand, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has an active Facebook page for all constituencies in Punjab and out of 117 constituency pages, 115 are verified. The party started its outreach program “Gal Punjab Di” months ago and coordinated it on all its pages (see Image 2). All the display pictures of SAD pages have the outreach program’s name written on them. The party has also been vocal about its alliance with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Several posts use the hashtag #SAD_BSP_Alliance. Even the party CM candidate Sukhbir Singh Badal highlights the alliance in most of his posts on Facebook and Twitter. Unlike SAD, though, BSP does not have a strong social media presence as some of its candidates do not have Facebook pages while others have a meager following.
Image 2: SAD’s outreach slogan “Gal Punjab Di” roughly translates to “Punjab’s conversation” or “conversation on Punjab”
In comparison with SAD constituency pages which appear to be coordinated in terms of messaging and content, INC and BJP do not have coordinated pages. Some BJP pages which appear to be coordinated were last active in April 2021. Take for instance this BJP Jalandhar district page that last posted on 19th April 2021. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate pages, in contrast, seem to be well-coordinated in terms of messaging as most are sharing similar posters in terms of design and content. These are blue-colored posters with a picture of Arvind Kejriwal under which key promises concerning water, electricity, education and health are advertised (see Image 3). The posters also have a picture of the candidates themselves and sometimes also of senior AAP leaders like Bhagwant Mann and Harpal Singh Cheema.
Image 3: A poster advertising AAP’s “Punjab Model”
There are also several active and popular meme/satire Facebook pages specifically against AAP like ‘Dhongiaap,’ ‘Fuddu Kejriwal,’ ‘Paltu Aadmi Party’ and ‘Jugnu’. We found 25 meme/satire pages that were running Facebook ads, some of which target multiple parties (see Figure 2). AAP is the most targeted party with 14 of these pages posting against it, followed by SAD which has 10 pages targeting it. Most of the memes on SAD target party leaders like Sukhbir Singh Badal and Bikram Singh Majithia on allegations of drug peddling.
Figure 1: Number of satire pages against party
*Note: We found a total of 25 satire pages running Facebook ads, some of which target multiple parties.
Twitter is one of the most widely used social media platforms for political debate and information. Figure 1 shows a party-wise breakup of candidates who have Twitter accounts. INC has the maximum number of verified accounts belonging to candidates. In total, 87 of its candidates have Twitter accounts, followed by AAP with 86 candidates. SAD has 73 candidates with Twitter accounts, however only 4 of them are verified with the INC having the most number of verified accounts.
Figure 2 : INC candidates have the most number of verified Twitter accounts whereas AAP candidates have the most number of Twitter accounts.
Note: % figure in brackets indicates the percentage of candidates with Twitter accounts.
Moving on from the kind of posts that parties make, we see that significant resources are deployed in promoting these posts through paid ads. In all, we have identified 401 Facebook pages cumulatively running thousands of ads. Of these pages, 226 are candidates’ pages and 175 are campaign-specific pages. Nearly 17.5% of the total contesting candidates are paying to make their respective campaigns more visible to potential voters.
Figure 3 shows the number of candidates who ran at least one paid ad during the duration of the campaigning period. We see that the Congress is at the lead followed by AAP and BJP. Figure 4 shows the number of campaign pages with paid ads run by each party. Here too, INC leads with 65 campaign pages running ads, followed by BJP and AAP.
Figure 3: Of the 226 candidates running Facebook ads, INC leads with 59 candidates.
Figure 4: Of the 175 campaign pages running Facebook ads, INC leads with 65 pages.
This election season, several parties and candidates took to social media campaigning due to the various restrictions imposed by the ECI owing to the coronavirus pandemic which reduced the scale and possibilities of physical campaigning programmes. In our future analysis of the social media handles of candidates and parties, we will be able to determine the nature of digital campaigns in Punjab and draw meaningful conclusions not only about online campaigning but also about party politics in the digital age.
1 Tur, Jatinder Kaur (2022, Feb. 01). Hits and Misses: Navjot Singh Sidhu’s play for power in Punjab. The Caravan. https://caravanmagazine.in/profile/navjot-singh-sidhu-punjab-assembly-elections.
2 Tiwari, Amitabh (2022, Feb. 15). Punjab’s D-factor: Can Channi propel Congress to power and upset AAP’s calculations? India Today. https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/punjab-polls-dalit-votes-can-channi-propel-congress-to-power-upset-aap-calculations-1913405-2022-02-15.
3 Arora, Kusum (2022, Feb. 22). Punjab Polls: In Doaba, Where Dalits Hold the Key, Will Channi Wave Work for Congress? The Wire. https://thewire.in/politics/punjab-polls-in-doaba-where-dalits-hold-the-key-will-channi-wave-work-for-congress.
Aggam Walia is currently working as an intern at TCPD. He is a third-year student pursuing a B.A. (Hons) in Political Science at Ashoka University.
I would like to express my gratitude towards Aishwarya Sunaad and Priyamvada Trivedi for their feedback and suggestions, and Neelesh Agrawal for providing direction and insights that shaped this article.