With elections in India due around May, the country’s biggest political parties have opened up a new front in their battle: rap music.
Campaigning on social media by both the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, is already reaching a crescendo, as the rivals fight their online battles in memes and subtweets.
Now, they have also begun pursuing young voters with rap.
On Jan. 30, prime minister Narendra Modi’s BJP posted an original rap music video extolling the achievements of his tenure on its Facebook page. Various campaign planks, from military aggression to women’s safety, found a mention in the uncredited video, which was shot entirely in black and white.
The video has garnered mixed reception. While it’s been viewed over 250,000 times, the top comments are mostly critical of both the song’s quality and the Modi government.
The Congress party, which has lately been catching up with the BJP’s enviable social media reach, was not to be left behind.
On Feb. 05, Congress members tweeted a compilation video of images of party president Rahul Gandhi, played to the new rap hit Apna Time Aayega (Our Time Will Come), originally sung by Bollywood star Ranveer Singh for his upcoming film Gully Boy.
But while the song is an aspirational anthem inspired by the rappers of Mumbai’s ghettos, the Congress chief belongs to India’s most well-known political family, the last three generations of which have served as the country’s prime ministers.
In the 2019 elections, though, the Nehru family scion is an underdog. His party faces Modi’s dented but still formidable popularity, especially among urban voters. And it is possibly these votes that the Congress is targeting.
Rap music, for years, has remained a niche urban phenomenon in India. But the genre has recently found itself in the cultural mainstream with the commercially successful soundtrack of Gully Boy, based on Mumbai’s underground rap scene.
India’s political parties have rushed to cash in on the trend. The country has the world’s largest group of people below the age of 25, and young voters are a crucial target group for political parties. In the last general election in 2014, the youth had sided with Modi more strongly than the general population.
“Apart from being a big chunk of the population, the youth demographic also shape public opinion, because young people voice their own opinion very openly on social media,” said Shivam Shankar Singh, a former data analyst for the BJP. While publicity campaigns had earlier moved from text to images, they are now veering towards video, thanks in part to a steep decline in data prices, he added.