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From street campaigning to online campaigning: Indian national political
party websites in the 2009 parliamentary election
Department of Library and Information Science
University of Mysore
ns.harinarayana [at] gmail.com
Vasantha Raju N.
Govt First Grade College
Department of Library and Information Science
University of Mysore
The release of Internet for public domain in the early part of 1990s radically alerted the
information landscape. The free access to information, rapid advancement in information and
communication technologies, and overall democratic nature of disseminating and accessing
information on the web has given enormous freedom for the people around the world. Unlike
traditional media such as radio and television unmediated characteristics of Internet provided a
space for most of the marginal section of the society to explore Internet phenomenon in
different ways for their advantages. Political parties spending huge amount of money for
election campaign in traditional broadcast media found Internet technologies as easy means of
reaching people interested in political discourses. US was pioneered the Internet use for
political discourses since the early part of 1990s .
In fact recently concluded 2008 US presidential election was highly regarded as landmark
election in terms of its use of contemporary information and communication technologies for
election campaign. Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of The Huffington Post sarcastically put
it that “Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not be president. Were it not for
the Internet, Barack Obama would not have been the nominee” (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com).
According to the PEW Internet and American Life project 39% of the American online users
have used Internet for accessing political documents and observing campaign events in 2008.
The high penetration of the Internet in developed countries such as US, UK, German and other
countries, political parties have been successfully using Internet for engaging user in political
discourses and reaching out them during election campaign , . But this trend is totally
different when it comes to the developing and under developed nations, where political
awareness is need of the hour. Though Internet penetration is steadily increasing in developing
countries like India1, Internet use is not as strong when compare to developed nations with
political parties. Norris  who did early studies on computer mediated political communication
echoed that medium and fringe political parties could leverage Internet to reach larger
population easily without spending huge amount of money and time. There are several advantages
using Internet for political discourses. Gibson and Ward  enumerated five main advantages of
using Internet for political discourses compared to other traditional broadcast media.
1. the volume of information can be increased;
2. the speed of communicating can be increased;
3. the format of communicating can be any (or all) of audio, video and text;
4. the direction of information and communication flows (ICFs) can be one-way or two-way,
upward , downward or lateral and the WWW can greatly enhance all types of interactive
5. the control over communicating is decentralized allowing individuals to send or receive
communications when they want, or to view or even publish what they want.
In India many national and regional political parties have created websites for engaging and
reaching out larger population for votes and political activism. Though there is not much
information on how political parties using Internet as a medium of information and as a major
source of information for many people in India. An attempt has been made here to examine the
effective use of the Indian national political party websites in terms content (functional) and
design (formal) aspects.
The study has been conceived with the following objectives:
1. What content features have been employed in Indian national political party websites to
engage net savvy users in political discourses?
2. Do they demonstrate contemporary technologies or is it simple an extended brochure
leaflet of the national party?
According to World Internet Stat (http://www.internetworldstats.com) Internet use population in India stood at 42,000,000 in 2007 with
a penetration rate of 3.7% growth annually.
3. What formal features are using for effective content (functional features) delivery?
To address the above mentioned objectives the study methodology has been designed based
on the earlier literature on political party website and computer mediated communication
studies. Content analysis has employed as methodology to examine the Indian political party
The data for the present study was identified from Election Commission of India (ECI)
website available at http://eci.nic.in/. Seven of the national parties listed in the Election
Commission of India website formed main data source for the present study. To identify the
party website URLs, each of the party names was keyed into Google search engine. After
identifying national party website URL address, these party website were again visited for
examining the credibility of the party website. One of the criteria that have been used for
indentifying unique URL of each of the national party website was party symbols. Though the all
national party home page was operating, two of the websites were omitted from the study
namely Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)
and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has to be removed because of BSP website was not updated for
long time and expect banner ads of the BSP website, none of the hyperlinks were functioning
properly, or in most cases links were defunct. RJD was omitted because of the website was not
available in English. Expect these two instances. Remaining five national party websites were
considered for final analysis (see appendix-1).
The data code sheet consisting of functional (content) and formal (design) features of
websites proposed by Gibson and Ward  was adopted with little modification to suit the
present study. Each of the content (functional) and formal (design) features were noted as
presence (1) or absence (0) in coding sheet. All the websites were coded in the last week of
March 2009. Each of the website was visited several times during the data collection period and
coded all the sampled websites. The data so coded were recorded in an Excel spread sheet for
The proposed model of coding scheme  was designed under the following rubrics.
1. Functional (content) features of the political party website
2. Formal (design) features of the political party website
Functional features were further divided into four subcategories such as:
Information provision: features related to general and basic information about
parties. For example, organizational history, ideology, press releases, party news,
photo gallery etc.
Mobilization /resource generation: activate the party support of Internet users
and fundraising. For example, volunteering, membership and Online subscription to
party publications etc.
Integration or networking: Structure serving to coordinate and embed (inner) party
communication through hyperlinks. For example, Links to politicians‟ personal home
pages, link to other party institutions and link to media organizations.
Participation: Features helps engaging users in political discourses. For example,
online forum, chat rooms etc.
Formal features consisted of following subcategories
Accessibility: features enhancing availability of website contents. For example, text
only, web browser compatibility, disabled access etc
Navigation: features facilitating the easy browsing. For example site map, search
Updating (freshness): indicating the currency of the website. For example update
date of the website
features facilitating interaction with the synchronous and
asynchronous communication tools. For example blogs, RSS feeds wikis etc .
Interactive features were adopted from Joyce Velenza studies on library website.
IV. CONTENT OF NATIONAL PARTY WEBSITES
A. Information provision in Indian national political party websites
The democratic nature of the Internet has provided a fertile ground for political parties to
publish content they wish. Which otherwise would have not been able see the light of the day in
mainstream broadcasting media. Thus all the select national parties have provided some sorts of
information on their respective parties on the web. It is evident from the table 1 that all five
national parties have provided party history and party election manifesto and contact details. Party
election manifesto was available in all the websites. Especially Indian National Congress party, one
of the oldest national parties made available its manifesto in multiple formats (HTML, PDF, Word
and Flash). No other national parties made available their manifesto in formats other than PDF.
Each of the parties‟ particularly congress and BJP, two major national parties have provided
information about the ideology they stand for. Only 3 of the 5 national parties have given past
election performance (achievements when political parties were in the power) information on their
websites. Though NCP was part of the UPA (united Progressive Alliance) Government led by Indian
National Congress, it has not published any previous performance information in its website.
Features like FAQs (frequently asked questions) and Event Calendar and other functional features
were not offered in most of the websites. BJP, INC and CPI (M) have archived news releases
stretching for 2 to 3 years. This analysis found that, these Indian national political party websites
primarily concentrated in one-way information rather than interactive or establishing two way
communications for political engagement.
INFORMATION PROVISION IN INDIAN POLTICAL PARTY WEBSITES
Item BJP CPI CPI (M) INC NCP
Organizational history -
Structure - - -
Policies - -
Media releases -
Speeches - -
People/Who‟s Who - -
Leader focus - -
Candidate list/profiles -
Electoral Information 1 (statistics, information on past
Electoral information 2 (postal voting info/voting
- - - - -
Event Calendar (prospective or retrospective) - - - -
Frequently Asked Questions - - - - -
Article Archive or Library - -
Current party news - -
Photo archive/gallery -
Newsletter - - - -
BJP: Bharatiya Janata Party
CPI: Communist Party of India
CPI (M): Communist Party of India (Marxist)
INC: Indian National Congress
NCP: Nationalist Congress Party
b. Mobilization/resource generation in Indian national party websites
Mobilization and resource generation are two important aspects of Internet political discourses.
Party website can be best used to attract citizens in large number towards becoming members of
the party online. Earlier it was so difficult to get party membership through traditional media. It
was through door to door campaigning for obtaining membership. But in online, any user without any
intervention/trouble can get party membership his interest. Fundraising is another important
aspect of the survival of all the national parties. Though in a country like India where party funds
generated through big business barons or collecting black money from party loyalties. Online fund
raising could reduce black money flow into political parties. Internet has regarded as “fundraising
weapon” . Targeting young users is utmost importance for the growth of any political parties.
Recent turmoil in BJP was a clear evidence of lacking of young blood in the party. In India younger
generation were completely disengaged with politics, because of corrupt nature and family politics.
Recent outburst against politicians because of 26/11 Mumbai attack was evident that young Indians
are disengaged with politics. Party websites can be used with interactive multimedia tools towards
engaging younger generation in political discourses . Some newspaper during recently concluded
parliamentary election reported that BJP prime ministerial candidate L K Advani‟s personal website
(http://www.lkadvani.in) was received considerable attention around the world. His personal blog
(http://blog.lkadvani.in/) started in January 2009 has received an average 67 comments for his
postings till April 30 2009.
Fund raising and online party memberships are two major functions of the political parties through
web sites. Only CPI (M) has given an option to donate funds for the party . This establishes that
unlike US where funds for 2008 presidential election poured in from online fundraising campaign. In
India still politicians are very much susceptible on online fundraising campaign. One of the reason
may be educated elites have always try to disengage with politics. Recently concluded election was
clear example of how educate rich class people showed disinterest in voting. Bangalore south with
highly educated class living in the constituency registered lowest voting (44.73%) percentage in the
entire Karnataka in the recently concluded parliamentary election.
In the recent period, there has been a huge increase in the use of money power by the bourgeois
parties. Unlike them, the CPI(M) relies on its organization and popular support to contest the
elections. For this, it requires to raise resources which can be effectively utilized in the election
- CPI (M) statement for fund raising in its website
Indeed in a country like India contesting parliamentary election is big task. Independent candidate
can capable of spending crores of rupees to win the election. Thus it is imperative for parties like
CPI, CPI (M) with little support from big corporate for their ideological differences to raise funds
through different modes. But in India where large chuck of the population is still in rural areas,
raising funds through online is difficult task. Another area where party website presence plays
crucial role is online membership. Except INC no other parties have made available this feature.
India is hugely populated with young generation. National parties can easily attract urban Internet
savvy young voters through online membership. Interactive nature of the web has made it possible
for political parties to provide or upload contents in different formats to engage people in political
discourses. National parties can use it for portraying party leaders on the web. Though BJP, INC
and CPI (M) have made some effort to portray their leaders through their party websites by
uploading video contents of speeches, it is still in its infancy stage.
MOBILIZATION/RESOURCE GENERATION IN INDIAN PARTY WEB SITES
Item BJP CPI CPI(M) INC NCP
Canvassing tour schedule - - - - -
Campaigning committee - - - -
Election campaigning diary - - - - -
Party members in the
Online party membership - - - -
Friend raising - - - -
Online volunteering - - - - -
Offers of post - - - - -
E-shop/Merchandise - - - - -
Online subscription to
- - - -
C. Integration/networking in Indian national political party websites
Bringing people together online was one of the biggest successes of the Internet. According
Alexa.com a premier web ranking company You Tube (youtube.com), Facebook (facebook.com),
MySpace (myspace.com) all these social networking sites were ranked among the top ten sites of
the world. User can easily connect with their friends online. Party website can link external political
party websites which shares same ideology or media outlets. Party leaders can hyperlink their
personal websites through party websites or other social media sites.
Indian national political party website networking with people was very light. Only INC and CPI (M)
have given link to party satellite home pages (e.g., state party websites, Indian Youth Congress).
Only 2 of the 5 (BJP & INC) national parties have given link to party politicians‟ websites. BJP party
has given link to L K Advani‟s personal website (lkadvani.in) and INC has given link to its party
president Sonia Gandhi‟ (soniagandhi.org) and prime minister Manmohan Singh‟s (manmohansingh.org)
personal website. None of the national parties have given link to commercial sites and media outlets.
Though BJP has its presence in social media like Orkut (created by volunteers) and Facebook, party
website has not featured this aspect in its websites.
INTEGRATION/NETWORKING IN INDIAN POLTICAL PARTY WEB SITES
Item BJP CPI CPI(M) INC NCP
Links to satellite home
- - -
Links to politicians‟
personal home pages
- - -
Links to party institutions - - -
Links to other political
- - -
Commercial links - - - - -
Links to NGOs - - - - -
Links to media
- - - - -
Other links (education,
jobs, search engines, etc
- - - -
D. Participation features in Indian National political party websites
Internet as an interactive medium has enormous opportunities for political engagement. Internet
can act as a source of information, as communication medium and virtual public space. Political
Participation can be increased in web sphere mainly because of its unique nature- a), efficiency and
convenience b), socialization of younger voters, c) Direct interactive relationships and d) increasing
the depth of participation .
Table 4 demonstrates the availability of participational features in Indian national party websites.
None of the national parties found to be used Internet for political engagement. Very few features
like email to leader, general feedback about the website have been offered in two of the national
party websites. Only CPI (M) had the discussion forum. Because of CPI (M) nature of respecting
horizontal leadership, compare to more vertical leadership that we found in Congress and BJP. It is
clearly indicates in Table 4 that participation level in Indian national party website is very minimal.
Moreover Internet users are elite people who are urbanized and have little stake in deciding the
verdict. This may be the reason for political parties in India to neglected online political
Blogs are personal diaries, in which each entry is organized in a reverse chronological order. Its
simplicity in publishing the contents and the feature that allows others to record their comment
has revolutionized the web publishing world. A survey indicates that twenty eight percent of the
American teenagers have created their own blog on the web . Blogs have been playing crucial
role in computer mediated political discourses (Koop & Jensen, 2006). With their low cost and
relative ease of use, political weblogs have the potential to open up political debate. In contrast to
traditional media such as newspapers, radio, and television, weblogs could allow people to have a
political voice and engage in debate and discussion with others . It was found that no India
national political parties have created party blog and blogs for 2009 parliamentary election. Political
leaders like L K Advani (http://blog.lkadvani.in/) has created his personal blogs for sharing
information, but political parties have not come up with blogs dealing party information. Blogs have
potential to engage young Internet savvy generation in political discourse. Other social media like
social networking sites and podcasts have not been used by any of the Indian national parties.
PARTICIAPTION FEATURES IN INDIAN NATIONAL POLITCAL PARTY WEB SITES
Item BJP CPI CPI (M) INC NCP
email leader - - -
- - - -
email hq general - - -
- - - -
general feedback on the
- - - -
- - - -
email feedback on
- - - - -
Discussion for a/Bulletin
- - - -
without comment facility
- - - - -
Blog with comments - - - - -
Online q& a/chat rooms - - - - -
Opinion polls - - - - --
Games - - - - -
E. Campaigning in Indian national party websites
Internet has now become major source of campaign news. It has over taken the traditional
campaigning news media - radio and television. According to the report Pew Internet and American
Life Project 42% of those ages 18 to 29 said that they regularly learn about the campaign from the
internet. Internet campaigning has gaining its momentum slowly in India as well. Experts in the field
argued that Internet is normalizing the democratic process across parties. Smaller parties can
easily benefit with online campaign by organizing online campaign more effectively. In India where
regional parties have taken a greater stake in coalition government at the center can leverage online
Table 5 depicts that how Indian national party website is used for online campaigning. It is evident
that though 5 of the 7 national parties were active in online political discourses. None of them have
seemed to explore online campaigning in a big way. Congress, BJP and CPI (M) have uploaded video
content of its leaders speeches delivered at the election campaign rallies. These three parties have
given opportunity to join e-mail update list online. INC has gone further step ahead and using SMS
campaigning through mobile phone. With largest democracy in the world and consisting of more than
500 MPs in the parliament. Campaigning online for each of the party candidate is difficult task.
Some of party leaders/parliament members1
have realized the benefit of social networks sites and
have made their presence felt on social media like blogs, Facebook2
, Orkut and Twitter3
etc. Yet it
is a dismal display of the parties‟ website in using innovative method for online campaigning.
CAMPAIGNING ON INDIAN NATIONAL PARTY WEBSITES
Item BJP CPI CPI (M) INC NCP
(banner, pop-up ad etc. on
- - -
Targeting ex-pat voters - - -- - -
- - - - -
Join an email update list - -
Become online campaigner - - - -
Send a link/e-postcard - - -- - -
Download literature - -
Download of promotional
material (e.g. logos,
- - - -
Broadcasting time of
- - - -
SMS Campaign - - - -
Shashi Tharoor’s State minister for external affairs who tweets regularly was a centre of controversy for his tweets –“cattle class” on
Government’s austerity drive
V. INDEX QUOTIENT COMAPRISON OF FUNCTIONAL FEATURES IN
INDIAN NATIONAL PARTY WEB
Index quotient for functional features of the each website has been measured for the comparison
of websites of all parties. The similar approach employed by previous research mainly Schwitzer (8]
study has been used here to calculate the Index quotient for party websites. Indices were
calculated as the number of features found in one category (e.g., information, mobilization,
participation and accessibility etc) was divided by the total number of website features available in
that class or category . Figure 1 illustrates the index quotient for functional (content) features
of all national party websites. Comparison index shows that apart from information provision (index
quotient for information provision in all party websites in corresponding order: 0.80; 0.25; 0.65;
0.80 and 0.25) features none of the parties have explored Internet vast potential either for
mobilization (0.16; 0; 0.16; 0.25 and 0), or participation (0.12; 0; 0.15; 0.23 and 0.07), or networking
(0.12; 0.12; 0.25; 0.25 and 0) and campaigning (0.18; 0.19; 0.36; 0.54 and .0.09). This index quotient
measures shows that Indian national party websites are mainly designed to provide information
about party and still they have remained as an information brochure of the respective parties.
Party websites hardly stimulate Internet civic or political engagement.
Fig. 1: Index quotient comparison for functional features
VI. Formal characteristics of the Indian national party websites
In terms of increasing the visibility and user –friendly access website must be designed in such way
that it should facilities easy navigation and accessibility. The core of the website is its interface
design which plays crucial role between users and content of the website. Table 6 examines the
formal features of Indian library websites. It is clear from that data the information architecture
of the website is somewhat political parties have to think in the future. Only two of the websites
have metadata embedded in their sites. Thus this can hinder the search engine optimization (SEO)
(indexing sites by search engines) of the party websites. There is no considerable effort to
enhance that accessibility level of the party websites to accommodate easy access.
A navigation page is used primarily to help users locate and link to destination pages. Web site‟s
navigation scheme and features should allow users to find and access information effectively and
BJP CPI CPI (M) INC NCP
Information provison Mobalization Integration Particpation Camapaign
efficiently. Only INC has site map feature in its website, no other parties have provided site
map/index in their websites. Link back to home page from secondary pages have been given in all
party websites. In terms freshness (updating) of the party websites it is patchy work that none of
the parties have given update date or currency of web site or date of the content uploaded to the
In terms of interactivity, except CPI (M) with discussion forum, RSS and video contents of party
events, speeches at its sites, other political party websites reflect patchy performance. None of
the party websites have had blog, which can be used for online campaigning without much effort.
Podcasting and wikis also have not been found. Again this trend indicates that Indian party website
is one-way communication channel rather interested in interactive political engagement or emerging
as two way communication media.
FORMAL CHARACTERISITICS OF THE INDIAN NATIONAL PARTY WEB SITES
Category Item BJP CPI CPI (M) INC NCP
Text-only version - - - - -
Print article - - - -
Download article - - - -
- - - - -
Metadata - - -
Site map/index - - - -
Link back to home
Upward button - - -
Updated daily 1-2 days 3-7 days every two
monthly 1-6 months
- - - - - -
elements Wikis - - - - -
Blogs - - - - -
Podcasts - - - - -
RSS feeds - - - -
Forums - - -
Interactive forms - - - -
Video - -
Sound/Audio - -
Overall web 2.0
- - - - -
VII. Index quotient comparison of formal (design) features in Indian national party websites
Index quotient for formal features of the national party websites is presented in figure-2. Except
accessibility and navigation features (search engine and link back to home page) other formal
features were completely sidelined. Formal features are as important as content or function
features of the website. No websites have displayed updating date. Users must be informed about
currency of the web content. Blogs, wikis, podcasting and other web 2.0 certainly enhance the
visibility of the websites. Indian national political party website must leverage web 2.0 features for
making their websites more interactive and attractive. In a nutshell index quotient comparison for
formal features found to be very light in all party websites. Attention must be given for formal
features in the future w hile designing political party websites.
Fig. 1.:Index quotient comparison of formal features
All national parties have made their web presence to reach the party loyalties and online political
news consumer. The web presence was used mainly to provide party information. Participation,
networking, mobilization and campaigning features were less evident in all the party websites. India
with largest democracy and dense population found in rural areas, national parties‟ culture is still
strongly focused in face to face interaction among the voters. It is early to establish evidence that
Internet can really attract voters towards a particular party. As mentioned elsewhere that Indian
politics is strongly rooted in rural areas where Internet connection is a dream for most of the
people. Recent Global Information technological Report found that for every 100 inhabitants only 7
BJP CPI CPI (M) INC NCP
Accessibility Navigation Updating Interactive elements
Indians have Internet access . Thus Internet presence of the political parties hardly attracts
voters. According Mr. Deora of Congress national party “Internet will only supplement and not
replace the more traditional element of a political campaign” . Most of the candidates
contested for the parliament election in Bangalore city- IT hub of India expressed their desire to
use Internet to reach people. But Indian party websites have a long way to go. At this point they
have just remained as “information brochure” of the national parties.
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Appendix-1: List of registered Indian national political parties *
SL NO Name of the political party Symbol Web site Party status
1. Bharatiya Janata Party http://www.bjp.org National Party
2. Communist Party of India http://www.cpindia.org/ National Party
3. Communist Party of
http://vote.cpim.org/ National Party
4. Indian National Congress http://www.congress.org.in/ National Party
5. Nationalist Congress Party http://www.ncp.org.in/ National Party
* Source: Electoral Commission of India (http://eci.nic.in)