Online Election Campaigns: An Untapped Business Opportunity In India
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Online election campaigns: An untapped business opportunity in India

 
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By the day, technology companies in India are successfullytreading into newer segments to explore possibilities of applying IT to the dayto day activities taking place in different sectors in order to simplify works andultimately do profitable businesses. However, so far, these companies seem tohave overlooked a big reality that India is the largest populousdemocracy in the world, and thereby missed out a niche segment – electioncampaigns.


Indiais a country where political parties sprang up time to time in differentgeographies, proclaiming themselves champions of different causes, ranging fromnational to local. They are named from A to Z in English alphabets. In Indiathere are around 800 political parties who registered with The ElectionCommission of the country, which include national, state and other parties.


As all these parties, apart from doing political campaignsto preach their ideals during elections, always swing to actions in response todifferent political issues that erupt sporadically in India, a high tech media that facilitateslive and continuous interactions between the ranks and leaders will lucrativelypay off.


India’scurrent opposition party BJP has already declared that they will use e-campaignin the forthcoming parliamentary polls, to be held in May this year. Besidesthe official websites of the party and its leader LK Advani, the party haslaunched an internet TV and internet radio to be used as the media in the electioncampaign. LK Advani, who is also the opposition leader, has started bloggingalso, in a bid to reach out to tech savvy youth of the country. CongressPresident Sonia Gandhi has her website, which gives daily updates on news andother political information. In addition, leaders like Railway Minister LaluPrasad Yadav and Jammu and Kashmir National Conference President Omar Abdullahare experimenting with blogging. All the leaders have a goal – get workaholicyouth out to caste their vote. This is, to a greater extend, possible given thefact that most of the today’s youth prefer online interaction over any othermode of communication. And also, the youth in India forms 50 percent of the total700 plus million voters, making that segment crucial for all parties. Media isalready abuzz with the reports about online election campaigns by politicalparties.


For IT companies in the country, there is huge businessscope lying beneath the elections. It is estimated that in the generalelections of 2004 in India, the total money spent in campaigning wasapproximately $2.6 billion, while $1.6 billion was spent for the primary andgeneral campaigns in U.S. presidential election in 2008 (as per reported byFederal Election Commission (FEC)). Raising this fund itself is the biggestchallenge in elections and in the U.S., this process was simplifiedby using technology.

However, one may doubt the viability of such a businessoptions since elections in the country are purely seasonal affairs. But thefact is that there are elections taking place in the country each year, thanksto different institutions ranging from Lok Sabha to corporation banks to whichperiodic elections are mandatory. General elections are not the only scope thatIT firms could focus on, but there are elections to the state assemblies,municipal bodies, panchayats, and other institutes. There are occasions of by-electionstoo, contributing towards bridging the time gap between two proceduralelections. And if a company with global footprint ventures into this space,they may see elections happening across the world every week, if not daily. So,those firms looking to try a hand at technologies that facilitate elections candraw their business models in accord with the election timings.


U.S. based ElectionMall Technologies, which provides toolsand services to campaigns, is one of the IT firms that see a big fortune inIndian elections. The company founder Ravi Singh has now set up an Indiansubsidiary called eSolutions, with VC funding. Singh aims to empowerpoliticians by effectively planning campaigns using software technology.


"Yes, this is an interesting time to be in India,"Singh was quoted as saying by Business Standard daily. This ‘campaign guru’ -so is he called in the U.S.- is planning to make his company a ‘democracylaboratory’, which aims at effectively planning the election campaigns by usingsoftware technology. "We do see some technology adoption by politicalparties in India.But we have a long way to go here," Singh says.


There are also huge possibilities to explore. During the U.S.presidential election, Barack Obama made history by placing the firstpresidential campaign ads in online video games. He had used the Internet ads,featured in 18 games through Microsoft Corp’s Xbox Live service, to promote hisonline voter registration. The main goal of this move was to target youth.“There is huge potential in this segment, especially in current scenario whenonline ad spends and rates are falling and Obama's success has shown theway. Significantly, political parties have huge budgets to spend and theentire online ad market is looking at them as the most important advertisersover next few months. But leveraging social media is more than just ad spend, agood opportunity is there for strategic social media or marketing consulting,where service providers can help political parties reach out to the youngvoters through online campaigns and platforms such as Facebook, Orkut andYoutube,” Sumeet Anand Founder, CEO of I-nable Solutions, which providessolution, wherein its technology can be leveraged by any political party tocreate a website that helps them remain in touch with people.


A concern that this space will offer only seasonal businessfor companies is seemingly unnecessary. No doubt that the election periods willbring windfalls for the companies specializing in what can be called as onlinedemocratic affairs. But once the campaigning in cyber space is well on track,it will take the netizens to the next stage of communication where they willactively discuss and share their views on different political issues that takeplace every day in the country, thus the sites will see everyday business. Ifone explores further, there are much more possibilities where even internalelections in political parties could be made public through online. It may seemto be a utopian idea given the fact that a large number of people in India are computerilliterates. But remember, youth constitutes 50 percent of voters and they areonline too. And hopefully the future generation will not find any computerilliterate among them.


On the democratic side, the technological initiatives bypolitical parties augur well for Indian Democracy. We had been witnessingrigged elections and booth capturing by extremist elements in the country.Technology could be a solution to these malignancies. The voting evolution hasalready in place with the introduction of electronic voting machine that helpedavert ballot manipulations to a great extent. In the long run there will be atime when people can sit at home and cast their vote through error-proof onlinesolutions that will possess a high identification capacity thereby filteringduplicate votes. It’s not just a dream. We have already started full fledged e-commerce,and hence unnecessary concerns are totally irrelevant.

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