BJP courts online influencers ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha elections
With the crucial general elections months away, PM Narendra Modi's party is engaging with social media influencers to attract younger voters, promote campaigns and shape opinions
In June, Indian YouTuber Ranveer Allahbadia, better known by his online handle @BeerBiceps, began interviewing ministers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on his YouTube channel.
Allahbadia's YouTube channel has nearly 6 million subscribers and features an impressive line-up of interviews that includes top cabinet ministers such as information minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar and external affairs minister S. Jaishankar.
The videos were labeled as co-presentations with @MyGovIndia, a citizenry engagement platform set up by the Indian government. The interview with S Jaishankar alone racked up more than 6.2 million views.
Raj Shamani, another prominent YouTuber with 2 million followers, also uploaded interviews with BJP politicians that were "co-presented by MyGov".
Piyush Goyal, commerce and industry minister, also recently held an online round table with over 50 top-performing YouTubers in the country on various issues.
The government also published front-page advertisements in prominent newspapers endorsing a selection of social media influencers, including their images and mentioning their YouTube channels. The influencers ranged from motivational speakers to financial wizards, religious singers and youth icons.
BJP tries to go viral
With the general elections set for May 2024 and Narendra Modi seeking re-election for a third term, the BJP has decided to hit the ground running by roping in social media influencers.
Realising how social media plays a very big role in shaping voters' mindsets, the party has ramped up its online campaign.
"We have a political responsibility. We don't run our party like an NGO. We have to inform the electorate of our achievements and disseminate that information far and wide," BJP spokesperson Tom Vadakkan told DW.
"The preparations have begun, and therefore it is necessary to court social media icons with public reach," he added.
Many top social media influencers in India have built a substantial following on Instagram and YouTube and have the power to influence the purchasing decisions, beliefs and values of their followers.
Targeting young Indian voters
Given the polarised media landscape and the shrinking space for journalists, political parties like the BJP are turning to social media influencers to reach a wider and younger audience.
According to a May 2023 survey done by Rakuten Insight, 72 per cent of respondents from the 25 to 34 age group said they followed at least one influencer on social media. This was the highest following observed among all age groups.
Overall, younger participants were found to be more inclined to follow influencers on social media.
India's young population will clearly be one of the deciding electoral groups in the forthcoming 2024 general elections. In the last election, 45 million people were said to be first-time voters in the 18–19 age group. The number of first-time voters in 2024 is only set to grow.
"It seems that traditional news outlets have less influence, and that is why the party is keen to exploit these avenues of influencers for maximum benefit and outreach," Prateek Waghre, policy director at the Internet Freedom Foundation, told DW.
"If the influencers can spread the message diligently without diluting their brand value, it further adds to their profile and possibly more endorsements," added Waghre.
Modi's social media savvy
Since the Modi government came to power in 2014, its aggressive presence on social media has also helped it reap electoral dividends.
Modi is one of the world's most tech-savvy leaders, and is often criticized for avoiding interactions with the press, but has maintained a connection to citizens via social media.
Modi has the highest number of followers out of any actively serving politician on X (earlier Twitter), with more than 90 million followers.