A tweet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 2 triggered a storm in the digital space. Many interpreted the post as the PM contemplating giving up all his social media handles, perhaps permanently. A subsequent tweet by Modi cleared up the confusion. “This Women’s Day, I will give away my social media accounts to women whose life & work inspire us. This will help them ignite motivation in millions. Are you such a woman or do you know such inspiring women? Share such stories using #SheInspiresUs,” he wrote.
In fact, almost the entire government machinery relies heavily on social media and his ministers are prompt with their tweets to back the PM’s speeches and policies. While the Congress is the main competition on social media, it still has a lot of catching up to do. There are glaring grey and dark areas. Just look at the following statistics. Look at two time periods – January to May 2019 and October 2019 to February 2020. In the first, there were only 18 tweets daily by the opposition party while in the second there were only about 10 tweets a day. There have been only about 90 Congress campaigns covered by social media in the first period and 70 in the second. Both of course exclude the rallies by Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, which obviously get covered extensively. Unlike the BJP, which is very aggressive on social media, the Congress had only about three exclusive videos per week in the first time period and one a week in the second.
The problem is mainly of coordination. For the ruling BJP, the party and government decide the line to be pushed and everyone is given a brief. The leaders fall in line and send similar tweets which flood a user’s timeline and leads to the posts trending. The Congress faces a problem in this coordination. First, new social media head Rohan Gupta has taken over after a bitter parting of ways with his predecessor Divya Spandana. Divya was witty and her tweets got traction. But she wasn’t politically savvy, which led to some bloopers, putting her party in a fix. For example, an alleged personal attack on Modi by ostensibly comparing him with bird droppings, or the pictures of Rahul Gandhi showing his “many facets” while travelling abroad that led to much trolling. The trouble was lack of coordination between the party media department and the social media wing. Problems arose when, for example, Rahul Gandhi decided to do press conferences and the social media department wasn’t aware or didn’t bother to publicise them enough to make them trend. In contrast, the build-up to the PM’s speeches and rallies begin much earlier.
The Congress is now trying to regain some lost ground. First, there is a WhatsApp group, which has influencers like Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari, Jaiveer Shergill, Sanjay Jha , Gaurav Gogoi, etc, who are very active on social media. But there are many who believe in “Aekla cholo re (Walk alone)”. Some leaders prefer to push their own handles and, when big campaigns take place, barring a few, don’t even bother to respond.
This was particularly felt during the Lok Sabha polls when many Congress leaders wouldn’t even bother to push or promote the party’s campaigns. Says Rohan Gupta, “We are reworking our strategy. Some of our campaigns are doing well. Like ‘Desh ki baat’. Its traction is amazing, going up to 2 crores. We are working on similar campaigns which will push the Congress ideology. The BJP has an edge over us when it comes to surrogate followers or trolls. We are working on it.”
A senior leader who has been associated with the strategy said, “You need a politician to understand the campaign which needs to be pushed. The Congress has good social media players but there is no political direction. Young people being in charge is very good. They are talented, but it needs to be backed by political acumen.”
Very few of the seniors have understood or even accepted the power of the social media. Rahul Gandhi, Tharoor, Priyanka Vadra get good traction. Most others are catching up, but the senior leaders just don’t want to get into it. You speak to them and they dismiss it as “fluff” and “candy floss”. And many aren’t even willing to take advice or tips from who they consider their juniors. But the reality is that Young India is hooked to TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and other such sites, and the Congress is letting go off a rich catchment area. And the reluctance of the veterans gives the BJP the edge. This along with the fact that better coordination within the party and support for the social media campaigns is lacking.
Easily one of the most influential social media users worldwide with over 53 million followers on his own Twitter handle and more than 32 million on his official PMO handle, Modi has shown the way to most of his opponents in the art of communication.