We argue that the 2007 state elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India's largest state, were the first “mass mobile phone” elections in India. The paper charts the spectacular growth of the cheap cell phone in India and in Uttar Pradesh, documents the organizational strengths of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and explains how a party once based on Dalit (ex-Untouchable, or Scheduled Caste) support was able to cooperate with Brahmins. In these processes the mobile phone acted as a remarkable “force multiplier” to the existing BSP organization and helped party workers to circumvent the general hostility of mainstream media. The paper does not contend that the mobile phone won the 2007 elections; rather, it argues that the BSP was able to exploit a potent new tool, ideally suited to poor people who often were limited in their ability to travel. The paper points to similarities with the Obama campaigns of 2008 and notes that though other political groups in India attempt to imitate the methods, they may lack the essential organization and dedicated workers.
Robin Jeffrey (email@example.com) is Visiting Research Professor in the Institute of South Asian Studies and the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore.
Assa Doron (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Fellow in the Department of Anthropology, School of Culture, History and Language, The Australian National University, Canberra.