Monday, April 13, 2009

Internet Strategy for Indian Politicians

The second most populous nation in the world, India, has a human stock of 1.2 billion people. India also happens to be the world’s largest democracy and the Indian Parliamentary Elections due this April-May will probably be the biggest electoral event in the history.

About 700 million citizens will be eligible to exercise their franchise. 500+ seats, thousands and thousands of aspirants, numerous parties huddles loosely (or tightly) into three (oh no, four. Never mind) fronts. Across the length and breadth of the nation, accommodating almost all terrain possible on planet Earth.

Welcome to the World’s Largest Democratic process!

Despite being a developing country, India takes pride in use of technology in this gargantuan process. Not many developed countries can claim to be as savvy as India is.

What really caught my attention this time was the use of technology by political parties to position themselves as the party of choice. In this case, I am more interested in parties using the Internet. I have seen BJP’s LK Advani on Orkut. My colleague Sonia (not Gandhi) informed me that Congress’ Sonia (this time Gandhi), Rahul, and Manmohan Singh stare you from banners in various website.

Quite surprising! At least, I am surprised.

Why would political parties use the Internet to propagate themselves? The penetration of internet is so low that, in my opinion, it is neither effective nor efficient medium. Internet is medium for the crème-de-la-crème and this number is likely to be miniscule. And most importantly, it is as fragmented as any other medium available.

Let us ponder over the voter base and the reach of different media. We may be able to arrive at a good media strategy for the politicians of country then.

As I had mentioned the voter base of India is around 700 million (meaning people over the age of 18). According to IAMAI, there are about 45 million internet users. We will consider this base 800 million in this article. This is for ease as the IRS studies has taken 12+ population as the sample for its studies on media and Internet as a medium.

According to this report in IAMAI, the number of people who use Internet in India is 45 million. Of the 800 million population, the number of people in the urban and rural India is approximately 250 million and 550 million, respectively. While urban India is savvier, which is no brainer, the Internet penetration in rural India, which is “where India lives”, is abysmally low. In terms of percentages, the total Internet penetration is approximately 6%. Rural India is in decimal figures.

In a stark contrast is the extent of penetration achieved by other media. TV tops at 467 million, publications comes second at 323 million and radio, with its emergence, stands at 180 million.

Some of the leading TV channels, publications and even radio channels can put total Internet penetration figures to shame. Some figures have been provided in this article for you to refer.

So, why are our politicians from the Left, Right and Centre so visible on the IT horizon? Just a small digression, as I write this article, Samjawadi Party has released its manifesto and if I have to believe news reports have decided to shun machines for men.

The problem with media in India is that it is highly fragmented. Primarily, India states have been divided based by the lingua franca spoken in that particular region. For example, Tamil Nadu is inhabited by people who speak Tamil, Andhra by Telugu, Karnataka by Kannada and so on. Each state government over the years has done well in promoting the local culture and language. The role played by local language (or vernacular) medium has to be commended. It will be worthwhile to mention here that according to a study, the number of English speaking populace is only a meager 90 million (maybe it is not meager but the point is that local language prevails). Consider this, Tamil Nadu state has 60 million Tamil (a language which was spoken even before the advent of Sanskrit). Population of Uttar Pradesh (UP), the most populous state in India, is 100 million. The language predominantly spoken in UP and in most part of the heartland is Hindi. Bottom-line, similar to the penetration of Internet, English, Internet’s (un)official language, is pathetically low.

Two, the Indian media is segmented, as it would be anywhere else in the world, based on the content it delivers. General Entertainment channels – Hindi, English, and regional languages, News channels – Hindi, English, and regional languages, Infotainment and Music – channels are primarily English though there are many local language Music channels, Movie – English and Hindi primarily, though regional channels do exist. Internet is also fragmented though the primary use of Internet in India is Mail (91%), Search (76%), Education Information Search (49%) and Text Chat (46%).

And finally, the segmentation based on Socio-Economic classification (SEC). The digital divide is total in India. We have seen that the penetration of Internet in rural India is paltry. Even in urban India where 43 million have access to Internet, the penetration cannot be claimed to be substantial (around 5%). It is no brainer that computer and Internet is used more in the SEC A1/2 section of the society. That again is not big number. Also, I do not think that this section is a large enough vote bank for anyone.

So why? Why Internet? Why are these politicians sprinkling/putting (not betting) their money on banners and ad words? How do they exactly plan to capture votes and imagination of the masses?

As Sonia, my colleague and a strong supporter of the Internet strategy for politicians put it, “it is not for masses but classes. Politicians are trying to reach out to thinkers and opinion shapers.”

Valid point!!! Or is it?

This article is dedicated to Manoj, who commented after reading my piece on differentiation for James Bond, that my thoughts are too frivolous and devoid of any facts or figures. So, Manoj here it goes. I have tried to put as many figures and tried to make this look like a research piece. Thought most is secondary data but relevant.

This article would not have been possible without the help of my very able colleagues who did the research on my behalf. Thanks Sonia, Durai and Rashmi.

If you are interested to read more on Internet in India, please visit


Karthik said...

trying to make sense of politics is like assigning motives for the food you and i love eating Ganesh:-)...but like we justify to people who eat with us, I will try...somehow i feel this is a way to siphon off all the accounted funds...even BJP knows they wont get any returns on this..some media coverage is all they will get...while the unaccounted money goes in bribing individual voters...they spoil the system and still want to be thought leaders for India's future...may be they know how to sway each segment of voters better than we do...get the vote at any cost..bribe, ad or PR...this is mass communications at its non-sensical best:)

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Kumar said...

good thoughts, ganesh. i'm usually wary of statistics coz i firmly beleive it does not tell you the right or complete story. there are 3 kinds of lies. they are lies, damned lies and statistics.
i'm inclined to think that the politicians use this medium to siphon off funds and would like to appeal to the so called "class" voters. they won't be really looking for any quantitative results from internet ads.

Narayanan.M (Nany) said...

Ganesh, u seem to have put in a lot of effort. Forget all the statistics, if we can apply our mind it will be very simple to distinguish between a good and a bad politician, no matter whatever means they choose to sell themselves.

Nicely presented.

Narayan (Tennis)

My Dil Maange More said...

hey a good piece of work...since am also very much interested in this space felt a litle more enlightened after reading your thoughts and facts.

Sriganesh R said...

Guess most of the comments are directed towards the parallel economy, which is as big as the real economy.

I have analyzed the use of Internet purely on the basis of marketing promotion tool. I do not have the right credentials to comment on the unaccounted funds.