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Insta-nt campaigning

With the student council elections moving online this year, candidates used of social media to reach out to voters, writes JAHNAVI MAURYA

Students of Jindal School of Journalism and Communication (JSJC) spent a lot of time on Instagram and WhatsApp last month — not only to connect with their friends and peers as usual but to seek votes and appraise their potential representatives.

With the student council election moving online this year because of the pandemic, the entire election process — including canvassing for votes — was conducted over the internet. This threw up challenges and opportunities for the candidates.

“It is harder to campaign only on social media,” said Arunasri Maganti, a JSJC2018 student and sole candidate for the post of president. “Social media is always a crucial tool, but personal contact with voters — through speeches or meetings — is always the turning point of a campaign.”

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Maganti, who was the vice-president last year and was elected president this year, added: “Townhall and in-person interactions really leave a mark on the voters. I am not sure what the impact will be through a screen. Candidates may find it a challenge to campaign to the best of their ability.”

Others, however, feel it might be an opportunity.

Kshitij Kumar Ojha, another JSJC2018 student who contested for general secretary, said: “I have contested thrice before, and doing it online is much easier for me. I feel this gives everyone an equal opportunity. My previous campaigning experience has not been good. You invest a lot of time and effort, but results do not go your way. With online campaigning, you know everyone is in the same position, so that is a good thing for me.”

The Election Commission (EC), which also comprises students, acknowledged the challenges of overseeing a completely online campaigning process.

JSJC2018 student and EC member Jasmine Singh said: “We have new EC members this year. It was difficult helping them understand how we work properly without actually being on campus. Also, the campaigning methods have changed, so keeping a check on that is difficult.”

Sidhant Koshi, another EC member and JSJC2018 student, said: “There are advantages and disadvantages to the process. The disadvantage is we cannot keep a close check on the candidates and their campaigns as we would have if we were on campus.”

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Much of the campaigning took place on Instagram. The handles of the candidates were full of posters, messages and memes to reach out to students.

Shaardhool, who was elected cultural secretary, said: “It is easy to begin campaigning, but keeping the hype up was difficult. My strategy was to produce something new every day so that I could keep my voters engaged.”

Maganti confirmed that Instagram — or Insta, as it is popularly called — had become the most important campaigning platform.

“One can post videos, share stories, and posts. I made my account public so that anyone could follow my campaign. Even during in-person elections, it is an important platform,” she said.

Kanira Dalal, a JSJC19 student who contested for the post of general secretary, shed light on some obstacles she faced: “Some students have private accounts. As there was no prior communication between us, they did not accept my request to follow them. So I could not reach out to them.”

Dalal also said Insta had made campaign interesting “I feel like it did give me more creative space to work in. I tried my hand in poster making, shooting a video, and whatnot.”

Students who were not contesting also found Insta a good place to get to know their candidates better.

One page, @jgu_422 ran a series called Candidates on Call. They did a video call with a candidate, asking them informal questions and then posted the interviews on Insta.

“We had heard that the elections could get toxic, and so we wanted to provide something positive and refreshing while getting to know the candidates,” said one of the managers of the page who did not want to be named.

They added that their questions were too informal for others, but they tried to keep it neutral so that it would not turn out to be a public relations exercise for any candidate.

As the managers of this page are law students, most of the candidates they interviewed were from Jindal Global Law School.

Full disclosure: Shaardhool is an editor of First Draft. We do not endorse or oppose his candidature in any way.