With an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the ruling Trinamool Congress or TMC and the opposition BJP in West Bengal have decided to revamp their IT cells and enhance social media presence to take on each other in virtual space.
Both the parties have been engaged in a bitter political battle for the past few years and are now planning to extend it to the social media turf.
West Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha seats of which the Mamata Banerjee's party holds 34 and the BJP holds two.
BJP chief Amit Shah has set a target of winning over 22 seats and the party hopes that social media will play an important role in its quest.
The Trinamool Congress, for the past few months, has been strengthening the party's digital cell under the stewardship of Abhishek Banerjee, the party's youth wing president and nephew of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Trinamool Congress' national spokesperson Derek O' Brien and Abhishek Banerjee are quite active on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook and are at the forefront in taking on the BJP in the digital space.
The party is all set to organise a Digital Conclave on September 10 at Nazrul Mancha, where Abhishek Banerjee will address its IT cell members, ministers and youth workers.
"During this conclave, special instructions will be given to ministers to be more active on social media such as Twitter and Facebook to directly interact with the masses. Most of the BJP ministers are active on social media but in comparison only a few of our ministers and party leaders are active on social media. This has to increase," said a senior Trinamool leader.
The party has decided to train over 40,000 youths on the usage of social media to reach out to the masses across the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies of the state.
The party has set a target of creating 10,000 WhatsApp groups with 256 members in each of them to spread awareness on the developmental work of the state government and "anti-people" policies of the BJP government at the Centre.
"Till now, we have been able to create 3,000 WhatsApp groups and for each Lok Sabha constituency, we have created a separate media page. We have 12-14 people monitoring media content, fake news and trolls from district level to booth level," said a member of Trinamool Congress' Social Media IT cell.
Colonel (retd) Dipatanshu Chowdhury, who is a joint convenor of Trinamool Congress' Media cell, told news agency PTI that the party is not only looking into the usage of Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp but also other platforms such as Messenger, microblogging sites, e-mails, Pinterest and Instagram.
"Social media is going to play a very vital role in the next Lok Sabha polls. We are looking at the use of digital spectrum so that we can reach out to our target audience, especially youths and first time voters," he said.
Mamata Banerjee herself, during the Trinamool students' wing programme held recently, had asked the party's students and youth activists to become more active on social media to counter the BJP.
With Trinamool Congress gunning for an all-out cyber war, the West Bengal BJP unit too is gearing up to retaliate.
BJP chief Amit Shah, during his visit in June this year, had spelt out the strategy to reach out to the masses, both physically and also via social media. Mr Shah had asked party workers to use social media as a tool to combat the Trinamool government in the state and propagate the pro-people policies of the Modi government.
He had also stressed on using social media to fight against the "rumours" spread by opposition parties and propagate developmental policies of the Narendra Modi government.
Amit Malviya, national in charge of BJP's IT, Website and Social Media Management cell told news agency PTI that BJP will leverage social media effectively to highlight the "colossal misgovernance" and "appeasement politics" of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal.
"The party has a trained cadre base with presence down to the booth level. BJP also has a huge network of volunteers, which is aligned with the BJP's ideology and sees a better future for themselves and the state under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi," Mr Malviya said.
On social media platforms, the party plans to highlight the "failures" of the Trinamool Congress government at the state level and the pro-people policies of the BJP.
Speeches and political messages of party president Amit Shah, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and state BJP president and other senior leaders will also be carried on the social media platforms and translated to Bengali so that it can be received by a bigger audience.
State BJP general secretary Sayantan Basu said the party is in the process of creating Facebook pages and WhatsApp groups at every booth of the state.
The purpose of these groups will not only be to highlight various state level issues but also create a public opinion on local issues through the use of social media. "The work of creating Facebook page and Whatsapp groups have already started. We hope to finish the job soon," Mr Basu told news agency PTI.
The state BJP unit is also on the lookout for new office space for setting up the revamped IT cell. In districts too, the BJP is planning to have separate offices for its social media and IT cell.
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