TMC-BJP Recreate Offline Acrimony Online via FB Ads Worth ₹2.4 Cr

Sushovan Sircar
·7-min read

As loudspeakers are mounted, makeshift podiums built and passionate political rallies unfold in the offline dust of West Bengal state elections, a simultaneous cash-rich campaign has been unfolding online as well.

Between 6 March and 4 April, a total of Rs 2.77 crore has been spent on Facebook on election related advertising in Bengal, according to Facebook’s political ads library.

As the second phase of Bengal state elections got underway and in the run up to the third phase, Facebook saw ads worth Rs 67 lakh in just one week, from 29 March to 4 April.

While the incumbent Trinamool has spent Rs 1.76 crore on ads via its official and allied Facebook pages over the last month, BJP has put in Rs 62.20 lakh.

Also Read: Bengal, Kerala Polls: Can TMC & Left Stop BJP’s ‘Double Engine’?

A striking feature of the online ads, however, is the virtual absence of the CPI(M)-Congress alliance from online campaigning and the relatively low investment on Facebook by BJP compared to Trinamool Congress.

Moreover, BJP proxy pages, which have played a major role in the Lok Sabha 2019 polls as well as Bihar and Delhi elections, have been less active in Bengal.

The Quint explored Facebook’s ad library and analysed spending by each party, patterns of spending and how online campaigning can impact the current elections.

In the following sections, we shall analyse TMC’s primary strategy, why BJP isn’t spending as much as TMC on Facebook and what’s up with the ‘Sanjukta Morcha’ coalition of CPI(M) and Congress.

Also Read: Mamata Slams PM Modi For ‘Didi-O-Didi’ Comment, Says TMC Will Win

TMC vs BJP vs CPI(M)-Cong

The Trinamool Congress has a clear edge when it comes to the amount spent on Facebook. A higher spend means wider reach and longer duration of ads on the social networking platform.

Both, TMC as well as BJP, have an official page as well as allied pages with other names that are affiliated to the party and paid for by it. While Trinamool runs an unofficial election-related page called 'Khotikarok Modi’ (Harmful Modi), the BJP, too, runs a page called 'Aar Noi Annay' (No More Injustice).

Here’s how the numbers stack up (including official and allied pages):

6 March to 4 April:

TMC: Rs 1.76 crore
BJP: Rs 62.28 lakh
CPI(M)-Cong: Rs 1.26 lakh

29 March to 4 April:

TMC: Rs 36.50 lakh
BJP: Rs 3.07 lakh
CPI(M)-Cong: Rs 25,500

TMC’s Strategy

Trinamool Congress’ high-spending strategy on Facebook illustrates a two-pronged approach to counter the aggressive campaigning by the BJP.

Focus on Mamata: If Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a consistent and reliable vote-puller for the BJP across Lok Sabha and state elections, Mamata Banerjee has been the face of the party and government for well over a decade.

Since 6 March, the page ‘Banglar Gorbo Mamata’ has spent over Rs 20 lakh on 72 ads at an average of Rs 28,309 per ad.

The page focuses primarily on the Bengal chief minister and builds on the campaign slogan, ‘Bangla nijer meye ke chaaye’ (Bengal wants her daughter). Her face adorns nearly every paid ad, each of which has a reach between 2.5 to 10 lakh Facebook users in Bengal.

Project Modi as ‘Harmful’: The other half of the TMC campaign on Facebook comprises ads that project PM Modi as harmful to the interests of Bengal. Given that PM Modi has campaigned expensively across the state and addressed dozens of rallies, this strategy appears to take on Modi the personality.

Since 6 March, the page ‘Khotikarok Modi’ has spent over Rs 20 lakh on 72 ads at an average of Rs 28,309 per ad.

The ads specifically target PM Modi’s promises, his references to famous historical figures of Bengal, communal violence in India, and low attendance at rallies held by BJP leaders.

Why BJP is Spending Less

Compared to its previous campaigns during the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, followed by the state elections in Delhi and Bihar, the BJP has spent far less compared to its rivals.

While the official ‘BJP Bengal’ page has spent Rs 62.20 lakh, it is less than half the Rs 1.5 crore spent by ‘Banglar Gorbo Mamata’ over the same period. So, what could be the probable reasons, for a party known to go on the offensive on social media during elections?

Focus on Fewer Issues: Unlike in the previous elections, including Lok Sabha 2019, the BJP has relied on a wide range of topics and formats of advertisements on Facebook. The strategy, as seen in Delhi and Bihar polls, has been to hammer the opposition with as many topics as it could. This, however, has not always born dividends.

However, in the Bengal polls, the BJP appears to be focusing on a few core issues – TMC’s inefficiency, corruption in Bengal and BJP’s promises.

Also Read: Muslim Vote Bank Slipping From TMC’s Grasp: PM Modi Slams WB CM

Proxy Pages Less Active: Perhaps one of the main reasons for lagging behind TMC has been its comparatively inactive proxy pages. These pages – a staple of BJP during every election – comprise of high spending caustic ads that aggressively target the opposition. There is little to no transparency about the advertiser.

In fact, during the Delhi Assembly elections, in February 2020, BJP’s official page spent nothing while ‘BJP Delhi’ spent a paltry Rs 1.3 lakh on ads over 30 days leading to the elections. Three proxy pages, however, spent a combined total of Rs 8.6 lakh campaigning for the party.

WhatsApp Groups: Another key reason is the preference of the BJP election machinery for WhatsApp over Facebook as a more direct means of reaching the masses. During a rally on 12 February, Amit Shah had told party workers, “Build up such a strong network on WhatsApp so that you can circulate 50 lakh messages in an hour," according to a New Indian Express report.

According to reports, BJP’s Bengal chapter comprises over 40,000 WhatsApp groups.

While Facebook campaigns could cost anywhere between a few lakhs to a few crores, WhatsApp is free and messages can be customised at booth level, local, divisional, district and state levels through specific groups.

The caption reads “There is no end to Pishi’s (Aunt’s) fear for she knows people are no longer with her”.
The caption reads “There is no end to Pishi’s (Aunt’s) fear for she knows people are no longer with her”.

What’s Up With CPI(M)-Cong?

Why have the CPI(M) and Congress’ ‘Sanjukta Morcha’ alliance been largely absent from the online poll battle?

While Congress has spent Rs 1.07 lakh over the last 30 days, the CPI(M) has spent a meagre Rs 19,945 on 31 ads on Facebook through its official page ‘CPIM West Bengal.’

Do they not want to spend on online ads? This isn’t true.

In the last 30 days, the Left and its LDF coalition has spent nearly Rs 22 lakh in Kerala Assembly elections’ online campaign while the Congress and its coalition UDF has incurred a cost of nearly Rs 12 lakh.

Similarly, for the Assam state polls, Congress has spent over Rs 18 lakh on Facebook ads through its official and allied pages.

However, similar to Congress’ offline campaign in Bengal, in the online space as well, the party hasn’t been seen campaigning much. Instead, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi have chosen to focus their energies on Assam and Kerala, where the party stands a chance at staking claim to power.

Moreover, with the Gandhi siblings not campaigning in Bengal, Congress has signalled it does not want to cut into Mamata’s votes. The same appears to have played out on Facebook as well.

Also Read: Assembly Elections 2021: What’s at Stake in West Bengal and Assam?

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