How Congress' social media cell is trying to beat BJP at its game

Rahul Gandhi is now making the right noises.

 |  5-minute read |   17-10-2017
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In 2009, when one of the well-wishers of the Congress party made several presentations about social media - the new age communication tool - no one took him seriously. Come 2013, Congress was facing an onslaught on social networking platforms unleashed by its powerful political opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The saffron party, riding high on the anti-UPA campaign, demolished the grand old party - not only on social media, but also in the general elections.

Well, history has a tendency to repeat itself. Within four years, the tide seems to be taking a reverse course. Mainstream media's chosen favourite and the uncrowned king of social media - BJP - has been caught by surprise by a resurgent Congress.

No wonder then that the Congress vice-president is now making the right noises. In the last few months, Rahul Gandhi has come across as a witty leader with a better sense of humour - in sync with the political discourse.

The shift in narrative is profoundly evident to those who follow the Congress vice-president's offical handle on Twitter. Rahul used the "Shehzaada" jibe that was generously used by Modi to poke fun at him in the 2014 general election campaign, and gave it the "Shah" spin. "Modi ji, Jay Shaah-Jaada kha gaya. Aap Chowkidaar the ya Bhagidaar kuch to boliye?"

It got more than 9,000 retweets and 23,000 likes. Unlike in 2013, today, Rahul Gandhi is more active not only on the microblogging platform but also Facebook and Instagram. Many believe the turnaround is to the Congress' revamped social media team's credit. It was in May 2017 that actor-turned-politician Divya Ramya Spandana took over the battered team and, within five months, took the party's presence on social media to a formidable position. A former MP from Karnataka's Mandya constituency, Divya resurrected the social media cell of the grand old party by putting young minds on the job.

This is how she went about transforming the Congress' web presence from its war room at Delhi's 15, Gurudwara Rakabganj road. The social media cell has a midsized team of members mostly young professionals who were hired through a series of corporate-style interviews and checks.

Divya also shifted base from Bangalore to New Delhi because she believed it would give her the benefit of being more hands on and accessible. "This is a dynamic platform and you need to react promptly. We work as a team and we work freely in a democratic space," she told this writer.

The new team has three national coordinators who travel to different cities to hold workshops and enrol more coordinators. Hasiba Ameen, a face of the Congress campaign during the Lok Sabha elections, is one of the national social media coordinators along with Ruchira Chaturvedi and Vipin Yadav - who worked with Congress leaders Raj Babbar and Sachin Pilot in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, respectively, before joining the war room.

Undoubtedly, Divya's fresh approach, creative instinct, unassuming nature and openness to ideas has helped script a good start.

However, she credits the recent success to Rahul Gandhi's good advice. "In a meeting of the social media team, the Congress leader's one-point mantra was 'focus on the truth'. We had a lively discussion that went on for two hours. He has an amazing sense of humour and we have been lucky to have a leader who gives you interesting ideas, we just execute it," added Divya.

In the past few months, the Congress social media cell has worked closely with its communication and research department to push ideas and issues that have the potential to dominate the national discourse. The results are encouraging, and sources indicate that in the past three months, the Congress has increased its follower base by 10 lakh users.

The news team has also got veteran Congress leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma, who were earlier reluctant to use Twitter, verified handles. The Twitter presence of state units, their heads and Congress Legislature Party leaders has also grown phenomenally - with the Delhi team getting even local party functionaries across states verified handles on the microblogging site.

What is indicative of the rising popularity of Rahul Gandhi on Twitter is the traction he is getting - the trolls have gone down and followers are increasing.

One of the changes in strategy is tweeting in Hindi to get double traction - and it is no doubt popular.

The upcoming Assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal are seeing the BJP and Congress' all-out war on social media. To ensure that Rahul Gandhi's visit is captured well, a duty roaster is prepared according to RG's schedule, which has at least two social media team members present in advance. They work as flying squads, making video clips and clicking photographs to add dynamism to the election rally. Before the PM's rally in Gujarat, @OfficeOfRG promptly tweeted, "Mausam ka haal, chunaav se pehle hogi jumlo ki baarish", with the hashtag #jumlokibaarish ("rain of rhetoric").

It seems the Congress has not only woken up to the challenge of social media but also rattled its prime enemy - the BJP. That said, the growing discontent and disillusionment with the policies of the Modi government - that rode to power on a mountain of expectations - has helped the party enormously.

Facebook would have more than 24 crore members by 2019 - the election year; add Twitter, Instagram and other portals to that and the numbers are staggering.

They are numbers any political party hoping for success cannot choose to ignore.

Also read - Taj is Taj. Stop romanticising Mughal emperors or Hindu kings. Neither cared for you

Writer

Mausami Singh Mausami Singh @mausamii2u

Journalist at heart and by profession. Idealist, optimist, passionate , adventurist and fiercely independent. Three keywords to find me News/Nature/Nomad.

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