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NYAY failed to achieve desired goal, suggests study

Rajiv Shah* | Ahmedabad

A recent study of how social media users and non-users behaved during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections has sought to suggest that the Congress’ main development plank, NYAY (Nyunatam Aay Yojana) scheme promising a minimum income to poor households, and announced, evidently, to "wrest the post-Balakot momentum back from the BJP," failed to achieve the desired goal, particularly among those for whom the proposed scheme was targeted.

No doubt, thanks to a strong penetration of social media, says the study, Congress’ effort to "create a counter narrative by bringing the focus of the elections back to economic issues" through NYAY succeeded to some extent, with the party managing to "communicate about the scheme to about three-fourths of the users having high/moderate exposure to social media." However, it adds, "it failed to reach out to half of the non-users of social media platforms."

According to the study, "Congress perhaps relied more on social media but could never actually communicate to the real beneficiaries of the scheme – the ones who lack resources to be on these social media platforms." This happened even as the knowledge about the Balakot airstrike was considerably higher among the non-users. Thus, the study says, if 49% of social media non-users knew about NYAY, as for the Balakot strike, the awareness among this section was 17% higher – 68%.

The study, titled Social Media & Political Behaviour, is based on an interview-based post-poll survey in 26 major states among 24,236 voters in 211 parliamentary constituencies carried out by Lokniti - Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

What is equally significant is, if Congress’ NYAY plank was "exposed" to 71-77% social media users, the Balakot air strike – the BJP’s main "nationalistic" poll plank – was exposed to 88-91%, a whopping gap of around 20%. The study states, "social media platforms were quite effective in communicating about the air strike, with 86% of daily users of Twitter and more than 90% of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram and YouTube users aware about the same."

Interestingly, however, while a top report, based on The Hindu-Lokniti-CSDS survey, has said that there was a major shift in the Hindu vote in favour of the BJP, from 36% in 2014 to 44% in 2019, interpreted as suggesting polarisation along communal ("Hindu-Muslim") lines, the study suggests, despite this shift, big majority of Hindus, even though influenced by the Modi propaganda on Balakot, remained tolerant towards other religions.

The study seeks to answer the question: Does India belong to only Hindus, i.e. Does it entitle the majority with certain kind of primacy, or Does it belong to all religious communities equally? The results show that only 17-19% of voters believed that "India belongs to only Hindus", while 73-75% voters said that "India belongs to all religions equally."

At the same time, the study says, "it is worth noticing that the numbers of Hindu respondents who believe that ‘India belongs to only Hindus’ is much higher in the middle two categories – weekly users of Facebook and WhatsApp; and rare users of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram – compared to the daily users and the respondents who have never used these mediums. A weekly/rare user of WhatsApp and a rare user of Twitter/WhatsApp/Instagram is also less likely to believe that India belongs to all religions equally."

Ironically, reveals the study, before Balakot, Congress’ main campaign plank centered around Rahul Gandhi’s allegations of a "potential fraud" against Narendra Modi in the Dassault Rafale Jet deal by coining the slogan ‘Chowkidar chor hai’ (the watchman is a thief) to counter a narrative created by the Prime Minister of being a ‘Chowkidar’ (watchman) of the nation.

The Congress slogan, notes the study, "was quite popular among social media users, so much so that even Modi’s counter slogan ‘Main bhi chowkidar’ (I am also a watchman), with all the BJP leaders adding the prefix ‘Chowkidar’ to their Twitter handles," which "though popular, failed to match" the then Congress slogan.

"On comparing the two slogans, the overall awareness of Modi’s ‘Main bhi chowkidar’ was found to be slightly less (68-81%) than that of Rahul’s ‘Chowkidar chor hai’ (72-84%)," the study states, adding the difference was "constant" among all kinds of social media users and platforms. While among the non-users of social media both the slogans were not popular, yet the Congress had an edge as 48% had heard about ‘Chowkidar chor hai’, as against 44% who had heard ‘Main bhi chowkidar’.

The study believes social media did become one of the most important influencers during the 2019 polls. Thus, between 2014 and 2019, those using Facebook went up from 9% to 32%, with WhatsApp and YouTube showing a similar trend. At the same time, there was a steady decline of "traditional" media: Newspaper readership declined from 29% to 18%, and the TV news viewership went down from 46% to 35%.

In fact, the study finds that there was evidence pointing towards "a strong link between social media usage and political participation." Thus, the social media users were found to be "twice as likely to participate in election rallies and meetings, thrice as likely to take part in processions and door to door canvassing and four times as likely to collect or donate money and distribute pamphlets as those not using any of these platforms."

* The writer is Editor of Counterview. A version of this article first appeared here.

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