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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November, 2003, 15:38 GMT
India's new age election campaign

By Ayanjit Sen
BBC correspondent in Delhi

As campaigning picks up in India's state elections, candidates are looking at new ways to reach the voter.

Elections in India are a colourful affair, with the liberal use of posters, banners and music.

Kiran Choudhry
Kiran Choudhry is one of many politicians with their own website
Many candidates travel on specially built coaches, transformed to resemble medieval chariots.

But in these elections, political parties and candidates are increasingly using new technology and media to make their pitch.

The growing number of mobile phone users and increasing use of the internet have provided the parties a new campaign platform.

Some political parties are busy sending catchy text messages to voters through mobile phones.

Many candidates have also launched their own websites to attract urban voters.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has taken the lead, setting up a team to generate campaign slogans to be transmitted via mobile phones and e-mail.

"We have even sent greetings to voters for the Hindu festival Diwali last month which will help us to win trust among the voters," says a BJP candidate in Delhi, Vijay Jolly.

Databases

A leader of the rival Congress party said by using Short Messaging Service (SMS) and e-mail, the candidates can directly target urban voters who may otherwise be apathetic.

Mobile phone numbers and e-mail addresses of voters are being compiled by the parties through local resident welfare associations and clubs.

Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee (l) campaigning
Conventional election costs have been escalating

The Congress party has hired a company to compile a database of 800,000 e-mail addresses to send campaign slogans, letters and pictures of candidates.

Political parties have also engaged public relation companies to spruce up the image of candidates.

"Emphasis has been laid on the use of new technology to campaign," said the Congress publicity committee chairman in Delhi, Vishwa Bandhu Gupta.

Pornographic pop-ups

But the new methods are not trouble free.

When the Congress party e-mailed the photograph of senior party leaders to some voters, they were accompanied by pornographic pop ups - sending party officials into a tizzy.

Interactive websites have also been launched by candidates to communicate with their voters.

Congress candidate Kiran Choudhry is one of them.

Her website was launched last week.

It lists her political, educational and family background as well as her achievements and that of the party.

Surfers can send their feedback as well as questions which will be answered by her.

Headband, caps and badges with party stickers are also being distributed among party supporters.

Also on the anvil are scaled-down models of electronic voting machines, aimed to educate first time voters.

Analysts say the parties are resorting to alternative ways of campaigning after a drive by the Indian Election Commission restricting the use of posters, banners and loudspeakers.

The Commission took the step to cut down on escalating campaign costs, while cracking down on the defacement of public property.

It has forced the parties to examine innovative ways of getting their message across.


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