Ping by Ping, How Karnataka's Social Media 'War Room' Made The BJP Go Viral in South India

Besides managing the social media pages for the party, the BJP team in Karnataka also manages 30,000 WhatsApp groups linked to the party at different levels.

Bengaluru: At 2.54pm on May 23, the Twitter handle of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka tweeted a video of BS Yeddyurappa. It was something that the party state president said on the first day of assembly session after the coalition government in Karnataka was formed.

"Shivakumar (DK Shivakumar), in a few months, the father (Deve Gowda) and sons will destroy Congress. If not, don't call me Yedyurappa."

Within minutes, the video was on multiple WhatsApp groups. Some had uploaded the video as their status.

At this point, the picture was quite clear. BJP was leading in most seats in Karnataka and they went on to win 25 out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats. The Congress-JDS coalition was failing.

This tweet was one of the many that came out of the party's social media 'war room' before and after elections. A dedicated team that tracks, analyses, responds to daily developments, including the opposition statements and media updates.

Speaking to CNN News18, BJP Karnataka's social media head Balaji Srinivas says the work began in November 2017 for the 2018 state elections and then continued for 2019 polls. The team gradually deviated from sharing just routine updates and statements of their leaders fully aware that "Twitter is not for the masses".

"This is mostly for media and others on Twitter to set an agenda. We thought to make it interactive with rebuttals etc. We started with one or two tweets. We got amazing responses. Then we continued along the same line," said Balaji, who started as an ABVP activist, headed its social media nationally and joined this team when Yeddyurappa took over as the party president in the state.

The Twitter handle is managed by a team of three people in their late twenties, two of whom are IT professionals. The third — Balaji — runs an advertising and branding firm not related to the party. The entire social media team consists of 10-15 people on a day-to-day basis, all of whom, he says, work as volunteers.

Besides managing the social media pages for the party, the team also manages 30,000 WhatsApp groups linked to the party at different levels. "We have the best WhatsApp networks. We had held social media conclave with around 5,000 participants, held training in more than 200 constituencies in the last two years," he added.

The team's recent tweets had "Nikhil Ellidiyappa" and "Ab hua nyay" (referring to Congress' failure to win majority). None of which the opposition is happy with.

"They (the BJP) use social media to take away political courtesy extended from one party to another. The courtesy parties extend, they use social media to wipe that out," said Lavanya Ballal, Congress' social media coordinator.

Balaji says quoting from the past and rebuttals are all part of the game. "We are in political system. Whenever necessary, we have to dig up some old stuff to show what they said earlier. When it comes to opposition we do analyse. Some opposition leader they tweet and don't even get 100 RTs. We quote them and make it an issue," he said.

BJP is the strongest in Karnataka among the southern states. Its Twitter handle has the highest number of followers compared to handles of the party in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

"Their tweets are crass, misogynistic. We differ politically but there is no need to make personal attacks," said Lavanya.

She referred to a recent tweet from the party mentioning Divya Spandana. "Having said that they have used social media very well. Whether right or wrong, they used it well," she added.

The Karnataka Congress Twitter handle, meanwhile, has been silent for a while now except for retweeting its leaders statements.