The upcoming electoral battle will be fought over five phases and for 87 seats across the state, but political parties are looking to capture ground in the virtual arena as they leave no stone unturned in seeking votes. 

The state units of the various national parties like BJP and Congress and regional parties like PDP and National Conference have launched aggressive campaigns on social networking sites to reach out to voters.   

"Social media provides an opportunity to get in touch with the masses, especially the youth, as these days a large number of them are either on Facebook, twitter or whatsapp," said Pardeep Singh, a social media expert from Delhi who has been employed by a national political party to work in their cyber war room.
    
The various political parties have set up their cyber cells, where they not only update information about their candidates but also keep an eye on the "online activities" of rival parties.

"It is very important to keep an eye on the online activities of the candidates of other parties, we get to know about their strategy and plans ahead of time," said Singh.
    
But it is not the candidates or party workers alone who are keeping an eye on "online activities" of the candidates; the Election Commission, too, is monitoring the online spaces being used by the political parties and their candidates.     

"Yes, we are keeping an eye on the online activities of the candidates and the parties," Umang Narula, Chief Electoral Officer, J-K, said, adding that district-level media monitoring cells have been set up for the purpose by EC.

The EC official said, "The candidates are required to submit the details of their online presence in the nomination forms and our district-level media monitoring committees are keeping an eye on the online activities apart from their activities on mainstream print and electronic media."

EC has also established an Expenditure Monitoring cell in Jammu where more than 100 staffers would be keeping a round-the-clock tab on the expenditure incurred by the parties and their candidates for campaigning through the use of various media.

With EC maintaining a strict oversight, the political parties and their candidates are treading cautiously on social media.
    
"Social media has also become paid and to reach a large number of users, you need to pay.
    
"But it becomes a tricky situation, so you don't want to spend much on social media as the spending limit for each candidate is fixed (at Rs 28 lakh)," said a senior BJP leader.

In order to avoid coming on the EC radar, some parties have instructed their workers to make and operate "unofficial pages" of their candidates.
    
"As the EC is keeping an eye on the official webpages of the candidates and the parties, there are many unofficial pages being operated by the workers of political parties and their candidates so as to reach out to the maximum number of people," said a facebook user in Jammu.
    
In order to make their presence felt online, the politicians are ensuring that their Facebook pages are updated regularly with accounts of the activities being undertaken by them to connect with the voters.

While the official page of senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad has 8,136 likes, the page of BJP leader Dr Nirmal Singh has 5,408 likes. BJP's 'Mission 44+' page has got 1,905 likes so far.

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