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In politics, only one permanent friend: FB A tool and toy in poll season

Calcutta, Feb. 25: As in politics, so on Facebook.

Didi has shown the way and Chhorda has followed in her footsteps, although he is no longer her follower.

Somen Mitra, who once presided over a state Congress from which Mamata Banerjee broke away to form a party that now towers over every other player in Bengal, today opened his Facebook page as well as a Twitter account.

Somen, 71, is joining a growing group of politicians in Bengal who have overcome tech phobia and discovered the virtues of social media. Somen, known as Chhorda (a way of referring to the younger son in the family) among his real-world followers, can also take some consolation: Mamata has not yet opened a Twitter account though her party has one.

“I am late, but better late than never,” Somen said today after launching his page on Facebook, months before the Lok Sabha elections.

At 10.50 tonight, he had got 718 likes.

On Twitterverse, too, Mitra, 71, has found 37 followers. He was following 11 people, among them Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Congress leaders.

“This is the best platform to directly connect with the youth. I hope my Facebook page and Twitter account will help me reach out to a new set of people who will be able to communicate their views, express their problems and direct their urgent requirements to me,” said Somen, who quit Trinamul about a month ago and returned to the Congress, his earlier party.

Bengal’s political leadership had until recently been largely blind to the benefits of social media till the Assembly elections of 2011.

At a Trinamul rally on February 15 in Durgapur, the chief minister said: “We don’t have thousands of crores to spend on advertising like the BJP or the Congress. That’s why I am on Facebook. It’s free and extremely effective,” she had said.

“I write what I have to convey to the people, Derek (O’Brien) types it out and someone posts it. It’s that simple. I can reach out to millions just like that,” added the Trinamul chief, who has over 6 lakh “likes”.

Soon after Mamata’s Facebook debut in June 2012, Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya had posted his party’s criticism of Trinamul on the networking site. “Eventually, everything will happen on social media,” the former state Congress president said today.

The prominent Left faces on Facebook include Nirupam Sen, Manab Mukherjee, Kanti Ganguly, Ritabrata Banerjee, Nilotpal Basu, Samik Lahiri, Sujan Chakraborty and Rabin Deb. “In a rural scenario, networking is all about face-to-face interaction. But in a city like Calcutta, where the digital divide is negligible, the social media is extremely effective,” Deb said.

According to a 2013 study by an NGO called Internet and Mobile Association of India, 160 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats in the country, including Howrah, Balurghat, Calcutta north and south, were likely to be highly influenced by the social media. Sixty-seven others, including Burdwan, Durgapur, Asansol and Purulia, were said to be moderately influenced.

The study placed the Congress and the BJP in the first two positions, respectively, for social media savvy. Trinamul ranked seventh and the CPM ninth.

“It is still an urban phenomenon in India. Social media campaigns will certainly have an impact on the urban middle class. It will be more of a city trend because of greater Internet penetration,” said S.L. Rao, Bangalore-based sociologist and former director general of the National Council for Applied Economic Research, who is also a columnist with The Telegraph.

“The urban middle class will go a long way in influencing voting patterns across the country. Eventually, with the maturing of social media campaigns, all parties will have to factor in Facebook, Twitter and such sites in their outreach programmes,” Rao added.