|More than 140 million registered voters were eligible to vote in the election's first phase [AFP]
The world's biggest election is underway in India and, as India's 714 million voters cast their ballots in the month-long elections, they are witness to a range of digital initiatives from political parties, civil society organisations, media houses and even corporations.
It is not surprising, then, that the Indian internet community is abuzz with discussions related to various aspects of the elections.
It is not only a big election in terms of numbers, it is a big election for India in terms of timing. Last November, the attack in Mumbai shook up India's politically apathetic youngsters and brought them out into the streets.
Since then, a series of digital civil society initiatives have sought to channel this newfound sense of civic engagement among the Indian youth into meaningful participation in the political process.
In the run up to the elections, online conversations in India have been charged with this civic consciousness.
Transparency campaigns like No Criminals in Politics and Vote Report India and voter registration campaigns like Tata Tea's Jaago Re have caught the imagination of urban India's web-savvy youngsters, with their effective use of social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube.
Blogger Rashmi Bansal writes that, with its campaign, Tata Tea has taken corporate social responsibility further than most brands do. Rajesh Kumar wondered on his blog, however, why only beverage companies do election-themed social advertising.
In other blogs, Indian Homemaker and Chavvi Sachdev shared their experiences with voter registration. Sanjukta, meanwhile, posted an interesting interview with Jaago Re campaign coordinator Jasmine Shah.
The two-faced Lead India/Bleed India campaign by The Times of India newspaper has incited mixed reactions in the blogosphere.
Anondan tore apart the Lead India print advertisement, while Rajiv Dingra wondered about the rationale behind the Lead India/Bleed India dichotomy.
On the social messaging service Twitter, several users like Deepak and Kanika, found the Bleed India campaign "funny and creative", while Sumant and Aadisht believed that Bleed India was "buzz gone wrong" and "badly done sarcasm".
Big party push
BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani's Obama-style digital campaign consisting of a blog, a blogger outreach programme, and an aggressive internet and mobile advertising element, has also evoked strong reactions online.
Most bloggers, including Sampad Swain, Mayank Dhingra and myself, have praised the BJP's campaign, but some, like blogger-turned columnist Sidin Vadukut have complained that it is overkill.
|The Times of India election campaign has received mixed reactions
The Congress party's Bharat Buland campaign, built around the Oscar-winning song Jai Ho (let there be victory) from Slumdog Millionaire, has attracted a lot of criticism from bloggers like Vinod Sharma, especially after the BJP released a parody titled Bhay Ho (let there be fear).
Aparna Ray has captured some of the reactions to the BJP and Congress campaigns in previous posts on Global Voices.
Several bloggers like Rajesh Jain (associated with Friends of BJP) and Offstumped are aggressively campaigning for BJP. The #indiavotes09 Twitter feed is dominated by hardcore BJP supporters like @centerofright, and @deadpresident, with only @vimoh and @b50 standing up for Congress.
Beyond the campaigns, bloggers have been critical of the BJP's Hindutva agenda and the Congress party's obsession with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Bhumika Ghimire has written about these critcisms in a Global Voices post.
The Indian internet community has also been abuzz with discussions on the controversy surrounding Varun Gandhi's inflammatory anti-Muslim speech and subsequent imprisonment, the incidents of shoe-throwing against Congress politicians P Chidambambaram and Naveen Jindal and BJP leader L K Advani, and the election campaigns of writer Shashi Tharoor, dancer Mallika Sarabhai and ABN AMRO India chief Meera Sanyal.
In the midst of this spirit of civic engagement, some people have become fixated on the misguided idea of "negative voting" under section 49(O). Basically, the idea is that voters should have the right to ask for a re-election by selecting a "none of the above" option, if none of the candidates are acceptable to them. A chain e-mail falsely claimed that such a rule already exists.
|IndiPepal boasts blogs from well-
known Indian analysts
Many bloggers, like Deva Prasad, strongly supported the idea and even called it a powerful agent of change. A Facebook group and an online petition promoting the idea are getting some traction.
In terms of individual sources, the Outlook India election blog is playing a curation role by linking to important stories from elsewhere. Social networking community IndiPepal also has blogs from several well-known analysts.
Blogger Chakresh Mishra is doing a series of state-wise pre-poll predictions for the Indian elections. Blogger Manoj Kevalramani is traveling through 11 states in 45 days to get a first-hand impression of the mood on the ground during the election period. The Indian Muslims blog, meanwhile, is writing about the elections from a unique minority perspective.
Jai Hind, Indian-Election 2009, Indian Elections 2009, Indian Elections, Speak India and Youth Ki Awaaz are some other blogs dedicated to election coverage. BlogAdda and OneVote are doing a great job of aggregating these conversations.
This article is published in collaboration with Global Voices Online, a website that translates and reports on blogs from around the world.
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