New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi Tuesday unfollowed around 50 accounts on Twitter, including those of AltNews co-founder Pratik Sinha, senior journalists Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt, his close aide Nikhil Alva, other staff members, and a host of reporters covering the Congress among others.
Several Congress leaders explained to ThePrint that Gandhi’s Twitter account is being purged, resulting in many accounts being unfollowed, and that he will start following more people once that is done. However, Gandhi’s account still follows those of some senior party leaders who passed away recently, including Ahmed Patel, Tarun Gogoi and Rajeev Satav.
As of 4:30 pm Wednesday, Gandhi, who is quite active on Twitter, had about 18.8 million followers and followed 220 accounts.
ThePrint reached members of Congress’s communications department through calls and WhatsApp messages, but they refused to comment.
“His social media account is being purged and that is the reason why he unfollowed some of the accounts. He is reviewing his account. He will follow more accounts in the coming few days once this exercise is over,” said a Congress leader on the condition of anonymity.
Senior journalist Barkha Dutt, who is among those whose account has been unfollowed, told ThePrint, “Because I am on the road covering Covid, this news, which I got to know from you, gave me a LOL [laugh out loud] moment. It frankly reflects all that is wrong with the Congress’ engagement with media and the larger sphere of politics.”
“Of course, we must have been unfollowed because we have been critical of him and the party at different times, which is our job as journalists. What is important to note is that while the Right-wing trolls us for being soft on Congress, Gandhi and his ilk claim we are too critical of them. I think we should take it as a huge compliment that we are able to annoy both sides with our work,” Dutt added.
ThePrint also reached Pratik Sinha, who confirmed that Gandhi used to follow his account. “I am not aware why he followed [me] in the first place, or why has he unfollowed now. I only found out about him unfollowing me when OpIndia wrote about it, and their loyal readers cum trolls started tagging me. I’m not sure why it is even a matter of discussion,” he said.
Sinha’s organisation, AltNews, is a fact-checking web platform.
Staff among unfollowed accounts
Among the other accounts to be unfollowed include people who work with Gandhi, such as Nikhil Alva, Kaushal Vidyarthi and Baiju among others.
“Some people in the office raised the question: Why should Rahul Gandhi follow his staff? Another reasoning was that as they work together, he doesn’t need to follow them on Twitter to know about them as he interacts with them closely,” said a senior Congress leader.
Another Congress functionary told ThePrint that Gandhi unfollowed all his staff members as there is no need to establish communication with them through Twitter. “He has unfollowed all the staff members as we are a call away if he needs to reach out to us … he doesn’t need Twitter for that. And frankly, all the staff members are busy working for the party and don’t get caught up in such news,” he said.
However, the leader said this “purging” of accounts does not stop there and has been expanded to include a number of journalists as well as those covering the Congress beat.
Alva had handled Gandhi’s Twitter account earlier, which it is learnt is now being monitored by Alankar Sawai. ThePrint reached Alva and Sawai for a comment through phone calls, WhatsApp and text messages, but did not receive a response till the time of publishing this report. Officially, the party has so far not clarified who manages Gandhi’s social media account.
As for Sinha, many on Twitter have been circulating an old tweet of his in which he referred to Gandhi as “dumb”.
@RanaAyyub he's dumb
— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) January 27, 2014
Many in the party pointed to a tweet by Sinha, posted on 31 May, as another possible reason for him being unfollowed.
“Why only put screenshots of title + subtitle all the time? Tweet the link to the articles. Let people read. One or more individuals have worked hard to produce the reports whose screenshots you tweet. They want their work to reach people, and not just be a means for propaganda,” Sinha had posted.
Why only put screenshots of title + subtitle all the time? Tweet the link to the articles. Let people read.
One or more individuals have worked hard to produce the reports whose screenshots you tweet. They want their work to reach people, and not just be a means for propaganda.
— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) May 31, 2021
Journalists get the cut too
Confirming that Gandhi used to follow her account earlier, journalist Pallavi Ghosh told ThePrint, “He has unfollowed me and a number of other journalists.”
In a post on Twitter, she later wrote: “It’s totally a leaders’ prerogative to follow unfollow- but the way done reflects distrust of a professional or profession u also need to take along (sic).”
Sanjukta Basu, editorial consultant with the National Herald website, posted on Twitter: “Including me. Rahul Gandhi has unfollowed almost every media person such as Barkha, Nidhi, Sardesai etc and is now only following Cong leaders, INC unit handles, and few very renowned activists and people. Cleaning up his timeline (sic).”
Sources confirmed that Gandhi had unfollowed senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai.
Some of the journalists whom Gandhi still follows on Twitter include Javed Ansari, P. Sainath, Mrinal Pande and Raghav Bahl.
A third party leader ThePrint spoke to said this purge is Gandhi’s first step towards putting his social media team in order, and the coming few days could see an organisational reshuffle, including at the state level.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)