Social media has proven to be central to political messaging but Rahul Gandhi has a lot of catching up to do when compared to BJP chief Amit Shah.
Three years after its debacle in the Lok Sabha polls, and many more electoral disasters since, political strategy is not the only area in which the opposition Congress seems to be groping for direction. The party, or at least its leader for all practical purposes, vice-president Rahul Gandhi, also seems to be struggling to master social media messaging – a critical communication tool that has become central to political campaigning.
Consider this: A glance at the Twitter timeline of Rahul since the humbling in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls gives no indication of the new low the party finds itself in or of a plan to pick itself up and prepare for the coming political confrontations. In fact, it looks like business as usual and as if Uttar Pradesh never happened. Rahul has been tweeting about his sporadic visits to a few states when he is not issuing generic greetings and condolences.
Contrast this with BJP president Amit Shah’s twitter feed, which is overtly political, interactive and evidently strategised to aggressively target electoral gains. This, despite the BJP being on an electoral high.
Both Shah and Rahul’s mandates are common – to strengthen their respective parties. And their twitter timelines offer interesting insights into the kind of effort they put into achieving their mandate as well as their approach to politics. Rahul is a late entrant to Twitter, having joined only in April 2015. Shah has a two-year advantage over him. This is what ThePrint found when it analysed the twitter feeds of Shah and Rahul since 11 March – the day of the assembly elections results.
SAMPLE OF RAHUL GANDHI’S TWEETS @OfficeOfRG
Word cloud (above) shows most frequently used words in Rahul Gandhi’s tweets since 11 March.
>On 16 March he tweets about attending Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s swearing-in ceremony. The same day he left the country to accompany his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi who was abroad for a health check-up.
>Series of tweets on 31 March criticising government after Rahul met farmers from Tamil Nadu protesting in Delhi and demanding drought relief.
>On 4 April he endorsed the new UP government’s farm loan waiver but said it was only partial relief.
>On 5 April, Rahul condemned the killing of Pehlu Khan in Alwar in Rajasthan by cow vigilantes. “When Govt abdicates responsibility & allows lynch mobs to rule, tragedies of immense proportion follow. Shocking breakdown of law & order in Alwar. All right thinking Indians must condemn this blind brutality. We expect Govt to take strict action against those responsible for this brutal & senseless attack,” he said in a series of tweets, but stopped short of attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi or BJP directly.
>On 10 April Rahul condemned the violence in Jammu and Kashmir and directly attacked the government saying its Kashmir policy had failed.
>On 21 April he tweeted about senior leaders from Haryana, including former Minister & MLAs, joining Congress. On the same day, he took on the PM directly on Twitter, attacking him for telling his bureaucrats not to use social media for self promotion: “Leading by example is clearly over-rated.”
>On 21 April, he criticised the alleged breach of security under Aadhaar and on 24 April, tweeted on the killing of CRPF personnel in Sukma.
>On 25 April, in response to Rajnath Singh’s statement about revising LWE policy, Rahul tweeted, “Last heard ‘demonetization’ was the Govt’s strategy to neutralize Naxalism. I hope the ‘revised’ strategy has a little more purpose & impact.”
>On 27 April, he held a meeting of the North East Congress Coordination Committee. Co-incidentally, a day later four Congress MLAs in Manipur defected to the BJP. On the same day, Rahul also expressed worry about the repeated terrorist attacks, especially on army camps.
>It was only on 1 May that Rahul finally made an overt political trip and addressed a rally in Gujarat, which goes to polls at the end of this year.
SAMPLE OF AMIT SHAH’S TWEETS @AmitShah
>Soon after the BJP’s resounding success in the state assembly elections, Shah took to Twitter to thank well-wishers who had congratulated him. He also thanked Modi and the BJP’s parliamentary board.
>A few tweets on Manipur followed on 15 April, where he promised his party would work for development in the state.
>On 17 March, Shah tweeted saying this mandate had ended politics of “family, caste and appeasement” and had ushered in “politics of performance”.
>Shah used Ram Manohar Lohiya’s birthday on 23 March to make a political point. He praised the setting up of a National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (NSEBC) as a constitutional body and in a series of tweets, claimed this would fulfill Modi’s ‘Sabka saath, Sabka Vikas’ promise.
>On 24 March he met BJP MPs from six states and on 25 March, he addressed BJP workers in Delhi, which was to witness MCD polls a month later. He again used Twitter as a political platform and posted that this was not just an MCD election but was an effort towards uprooting AAP in the next assembly election in Delhi. Shah attacked AAP in a series of aggressive tweets.
>On 29 March, Shah addressed a BJP workers’ gathering in Ahmedabad in Gujarat. He made an aggressive pitch for BJP in the state, which votes at the end of this year. He used Twitter the same day to praise the central government for bringing in GST.
>His next big political pitch came on 3 April when he interacted with BJP workers from across the country in Delhi. On 5 April — BJP’s foundation day — Shah put out a series of tweets on the BJP’s ideology and achievements.
>On 13 April, he tweeted about assembly by-poll results in Rajasthan, Assam, Delhi, Himachal and Madhya Pradesh reflecting people’s faith in Modi. In a series of tweets, he congratulated BJP leaders in the state who had led the party. He even thanked West Bengal for making BJP the “principal opposition party” in the state in by-polls.
>On 14 April, Shah was in Orissa for the BJP’s national executive meet and the next few tweets were staunchly political, attacking opposition parties for claiming EVMs are being manipulated and also making a clear pitch for Orissa.
>On 25 April, Shah as part of his ‘Vistaar Yatra’ or expansion drive, was in Naxalbari in West Bengal and over the next three days, he visited booths and met party workers in the state. His Twitter feed was updated accordingly, making an aggressive case for the party in the state and attacking the ruling Trinamool Congress.
>On May 2, he addressed BJP’s state council meeting in Lucknow and put out a series of politically loaded tweets.
The pattern is evident. Rahul’s tweets are less than sharp with few political attacks, and even fewer positive, agenda-setting promises. Shah’s, on the other hand, are politically assertive, strategic and focused on consolidating and expanding the BJP’s footprints. Their Twitter timelines are evidently a reflection of their respective brand of politics.
– Ruhi Tewari is Associate Editor at ThePrint. You can follow her on Twitter @RuhiTewari