Watch Nidhi Razdan: YouTubers and their influence on India elections Video Credit: Gulf News

In the midst of the heat and dust of India’s long, drawn out general election, an important milestone was quietly reached on You Tube. Journalist Ravish Kumar crossed 1 crore (or 10 million) subscribers on the digital platform. Ravish, my former colleague at NDTV, quit the channel last year when billionaire Gautam Adani bought it (I resigned as well).

Ravish went on to launch his digital channel on YouTube and has met with phenomenal success. Ravish’s USP is telling the stories and struggles of ordinary people and asking tough questions of those in power, in a sarcastic style that only he can pull off.

It is what made his NDTV Hindi show wildly popular and fuels his success even today. On his page, there are a series if videos that focus on key issues that affect people — like unemployment. There is also in depth analysis of current political developments backed by fact checking.

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Transforming India's political landscape

Another YouTuber who has seen huge views during this election season is Dhruv Rathee. Rathee has been around on the digital platform for some years now. A fierce critic of the Modi government, one of his videos this time garnered over 25 million views on YouTube. Rathee has over 20 million subscribers on his YouTube channel.

Based in Germany, he has churned out video after video, almost all of which have gone viral. He is not a journalist but Dhruv Rathee has managed to rope in viewers through his unique story telling style and his ability to break down key issues viz lack of jobs in India.

The success of the YouTubers is largely due to the slow death of the mainstream media in India and its credibility, which lies in tatters. Television “news” channels in particular are openly partisan in favour of the government. People know that if they want a more critical view of what is happening in the country, only the internet and YouTube can help.

It is ironic, since it was the BJP that effectively used social media so successfully back in 2014 when Mr. Modi was first elected to power at the centre. Since then, the BJP has driven narratives on key issues online through its vast IT cell and usurped mainstream news organisations to further its agenda.

The situation today is that TV news channels are so biased, that even the BJP has turned to influencers and digital content creators to win over new voters. Even they know the mainstream is no longer cutting any ice.

Read more by Nidhi Razdan

Determining India’s future

The BJP has been reaching out to social media influencers at various levels. Most are on YouTube or Instagram. Some have huge followings running into the millions, others may have a few thousand but can help in reaching out to voters in their areas. And it’s not just the BJP alone.

The Congress has been following a similar strategy. During his Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul Gandhi’s main interviews were with social media stars, not traditional media. The AAP has adopted the same tactic and even smaller regional parties have done the same.

In Telangana for example, the BRS party had roped in over 250 influencers last year for the state polls. Several top politicians have done interviews with YouTube stars like Samdish who have a more casual, free flowing interview style which is quite refreshing from the stuffy styles we are used to on television.

Today, in even far flung villages of India, the one thing almost everyone owns is a smartphone. Young people are glued to their screens to get news from social media and digital platforms. There are more than 800 million internet users in the country. A huge demographic that all political parties are targeting are young voters who use social media the most.

These are the people who will determine India’s future.