Indians living abroad are unlikely to vote in a general election, but they can help a political party in many other ways. Although they are stereotypically seen as moneybags with an ultra-nationalistic spirit who hope to make a difference from a distance, in the age of the social media they can also serve as a vital cog in the propaganda machine of parties. The Bharatiya Janata Party, touted as the party with a difference, was the original favourite of the most vocal sections of non-resident Indians, but the party appears to be losing some ground to the new star on the firmament, the Aam Aadmi Party. Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP, now seen as the harbingers of change, have captured the imagination of many NRIs as also some of their money — about Rs. 6 crore came from overseas contributions. The BJP has sensed this shift as well as anyone else. The Overseas Friends of BJP, an organisation of non-resident Indians and persons of Indian origin who back the BJP and seek investment opportunities in India in return, is now being roped in for resources other than financial. The AAP benefited hugely from the buzz created by the middle class on the social media, and not just financially.
Funds are not exactly a problem for the BJP; as the front-runner in this year’s Lok Sabha election the party can tap its domestic reservoirs easily enough. However, the party could not but have been envious of the manner in which the AAP built up its credibility and social acceptance through its supporters on Twitter and Facebook. The AAP is a new-age party in every sense: in terms of organisation, funding, and propaganda. With its origins in an anti-corruption movement that is only a few years old, the party captured the feelings of a rising middle class directed at the entire political class. The so-called referendum on whether to form a government in Delhi with the support of the Congress — which was conducted through its website, SMS messages and phone calls — might have appeared to some political analysts as an outlandish method of decision-making, but the AAP clearly wanted to emphasise that it was a supporter-driven party, and not a hierarchical organisation. A vast majority of India’s poor might still have no access to laptops and phones, but by demonstrating a willingness to listen, the AAP managed to expand its constituency not only among netizens, but among wider sections of the Indian public too. What the BJP and other parties can really learn from the AAP is not some novel way of reaching new voters, but the old value of democratic decision-making.