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Gujarat: Online battle for ballots

By Kashif-ul-Huda, TwoCircles.net

The Gujarat election of 2007 is the most keenly watched state assembly election of recent times. Electioneering has been intense in the state but a lot is being said and done outside the state and even outside the country regarding this election. Utilizing the powerful medium of the Internet, people with interest and want to influence the election in their favor are taking the help of the Internet to propagate their message and reach out to the Gujarati voters.

A number of non-resident Gujaratis have been busy campaigning for BJP in Gujarat but those who could not physically be there are being urged to call their family and friends. Emails are being sent to all corners of the world to ensure Narendra Modi’s victory. BJP and Mr. Modi would have us believe that the election is about the development and progress that Gujarat has seen under the Modi raj, but the content and exchange of emails show the real intent behind the online campaigning.

Supportgujarat.org, a website launched in November of this year provides videos, data and documents on why Narendra Modi should be elected again. It exhorts its visitors to tell their family and friends in Gujarat to vote for Narendra Modi. On its home page it has an appeal addressed to “all Gujarati brothers and sisters,” but just a few lines later it is clear that only Hindu brothers and sisters are addressed in this appeal. The appeal starts off with how “Gujarat’s progress under Narendra Modi’s leadership” is being appreciated around the world and that this growth “will further empower India.”

Appeal to Hindus

Scare tactics are employed at the beginning, saying that the consequences of Gujarat under the Congress will be “disastrous not just for Gujarat but for the entire country.” The very first point of this disaster is that there will be “appeasement of minorities,” as if this was not scary enough, it adds “by suppressing the majority population.” To further drive it home the second point reads “Insults to Hindus & Hindu ethos.” Reservation is targeted in the third point and a conversion scare is raised in the next point, underlining that the Hindutva brigade does not like Dalits and Christians either.

In a total disregard for the Election code of conduct, supportgujarat.org asks its readers to “Vote for Ram and not the Ravan Party, who even doubts Ram’s existence,” meaning vote for the BJP and not the Congress. The election code of conduct prohibits making appeal for votes based on caste or communal feelings. If all this can be said in such a public forum, in total disregard for the law of the land then one may wonder what is being said in private or in the mailing list of Hindutva groups.

People who monitor Hindutva group activities in the United States provided some of these emails to TwoCircles.net. We are keeping the sources anonymous to protect their identity. If the public message on the site was geared towards all Hindus, in private these messages are more discriminatory and Hindus are divided into two camps- “true Hindu” and “Secular Hindu.”

“If you are true Hindu of Bharatmata please watch these videos on Gujarat,” reads one message pointing to a video on the web, adding “If you are “Secular Hindu” there is nothing for you in it.” Readers are then asked “you decide where you stand.”

Another email lists a few website’s addresses and asks “send these links to millions of Hindus.” The reason for all this campaigning is not simply to once again make Narendra Modi the chief minister of Gujarat, but one email writer promises that it will “start forming of Akhand Hindurashtra from Gujarat.”

Counter attack

Mr. Narendra Modi evokes strong emotions from people who oppose him and his style of politics. While there are a number of videos on youtube.com about Modi and Gujarat’s progress under Modi, there are quite a few clips on the same site reminding viewers about Modi’s involvement in riots, fake encounters and most popular clips on him walking out on the Devil’s Advocate interview by Karan Thapar.

GujaratFiles.net is a site that is not about Modi but a collection of data and news articles about Gujarat. News articles are categorized under categories like Agriculture, Education, Industries, and Women etc. Data collected from various governmental sources gives the real picture of Gujarat’s progress without the rhetoric. GujaratFiles.net is a project of Indian Muslim Council, a United States based advocacy organization. Contrast to SupportGujarat.org, GujaratFiles.net does not appeal on an emotional level but more cerebral, providing facts and news stories from major news sources without any editorial addition.

So who is winning this battle of Gujarat? Only the Election Commission can tell us after the counting of votes, but about this battle on the World Wide Web there are some clues. While there seems to be more videos in favor of Modi on YouTube, the number of views appear to be more for videos that are against Modi, even though they are just slightly ahead.

Alexa.com, which ranks their websites, based on their traffic ranks SupportGujarat.org at 4,711,027 and GujaratFiles.net at 1,193,311. Both show pretty low rankings but considering that these sites existed only for few weeks, this is not surprising. What is surprising is that SupportGujarat.org, which had some media exposure, is well below less publicized, GujaratFiles.net. One can only hope that the response on the ground is similar to this.