Times of India’s “Lost Votes” campaign ignites a mass movement, compels change

By Debadyuti Karan

The Times of India

Kolkata, West Bengal, India

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The Times of India has led the biggest changes in Indian socio-polity. For the newspaper to put its might behind a cause, it has to be large. Last year’s national elections were the biggest upcoming event and, with 900 million-plus registered voters, it was the dance of the world’s largest democracy.

It had been recorded that 290 million Indians had dropped out of the 2019 national elections, more than the entire voting population of the United States of 236 million.

The world’s largest democracy, India, was bleeding votes, and no one paid any heed. It was time for the voice of the nation, the Times of India (TOI), to take action. 

The Lost Votes campaign aimed to restore voting rights to 290 million Indians.
The Lost Votes campaign aimed to restore voting rights to 290 million Indians.

The TOI Lost Votes campaign broke 70 years of silence and blaming voter apathy for low voter turnout, leading to the system taking responsibility.

Restoring lost rights

The Lost Votes campaign strived to revive voting rights for 290 million Indians to end the discrimination against Indian citizens who no longer live in their hometown and miss out on their democratic right to vote, since their vote is restricted to their place of registration.

The campaign became the voice of millions of Indians on the move to rally for a cause that had the power to bring about a change in the voting landscape of the country. 

And it was a first when the Indian bureaucracy responded in real time and helped — all because of a single campaign.

After months of campaigning, the voices of millions of Indians were heard. The Election Commission (EC) announced it was working on a permanent, technology-led solution to enable voting from any city for domestic migrants. The government was asked to give the EC the legal right to link Aadhar (ID) cards with voter IDs. Veteran lawyer S.P. Anand filed a public interest litigation, moving the Supreme Court to direct the EC to guarantee migrants the right to exercise their vote.

It’s not every day that a brand campaign garners more petition signatures than those that made Brexit possible.

Building awareness

A record-breaking 1.1 million petitions were signed, putting pressure on the EC to respond. At the Lost Votes microsite (lostvotes.com), a live, interactive billboard, allowed people to sign the online petition and share their ideas to resolve the issue and their personal stories. Collaboration with Change.org played another huge role in generating a mass movement.

As a result of the Lost Votes campaign, the government gave the EC legal power to link Aadhaar and voter ID to allow remote voting.
As a result of the Lost Votes campaign, the government gave the EC legal power to link Aadhaar and voter ID to allow remote voting.

Competing media houses set aside rivalries to support a cause created by one. Other competing and highly regarded publications carried their own stories on Lost Votes, crediting TOI for leading the movement — including Business Insider, Huffington Post, Money Control, First Post, and The Diplomat.

The campaign spread like wildfire. Prime-time TV debates with politicians, policymakers, and lawyers were conducted by Times Now Editor Navika Kumar and Mirror Now Editor Faye D’Souza. 

Social influencers joined the movement; former Parliament members Naveen Jindal and Jay Panda showed support on Twitter. Notable athletes R. Ashwin, Sunil Chetri and Heena Sidhu tweeted to the PM about their plight of being a lost vote. Kiran Mazumdar, Chetan Bhagat, Pankaj Udhas, Mithila Palkar, and many influencers joined TOI. This campaign turned into a mass movement which garnered a reach of 12 million on Twitter, 92 million on Facebook and Instagram for 200 million+ media impressions.

#LostVotes trended on Twitter just after the general elections. After the announcement of election results, an evocative print innovation was released. Readers had to rub the red ink from the ad on their finger and share pictures on social media. With thousands responding to this innovation, #LostVotes trended on Twitter in India, demonstrating people’s emotions, especially in the aftermath of loss.

An innovative print ad asked readers to rub the red ink from the paper onto their finger and share a picture on social media to show solidarity.
An innovative print ad asked readers to rub the red ink from the paper onto their finger and share a picture on social media to show solidarity.

It didn’t stop there: TOI grew 14% in its readership, and among the 16-29 years age group, TOI grew a whopping 20%.

About Debadyuti Karan

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