Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s decision to unfollow over 50 Twitter handles has set the rumour mills rolling. The Wayanad parliamentarian, who has 18.8 million followers on Twitter, was following 219 handles by Thursday morning — down by 55 from two days ago.
What has piqued interest of observers is that @RahulGandhi has unfollowed KB Byju, a former Special Protection Group commando, and brothers Nikhil and Nivedith Alva, who are considered his aides.
Nikhil, with his background in film-making, once handled Gandhi’s social media accounts, adding a sting to his tweets that gained a lot of traction before and during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Byju has helped organise Gandhi’s southern tours, especially those to Kerala — the state he represents in Parliament. Byju even shifted his base to the state to oversee preparations for Gandhi’s visits there.
Gandhi has also unfollowed Alankar Sawai, who is handling his social media accounts along with Prathishta Singh, who belongs to a political family in Bihar and was with the women’s wing of the party. The former Congress president, however, continues to follow Rohan Gupta, who heads the Congress’s digital team.
Not only his aides, Gandhi also unfollowed a host of journalists, including industry heavyweights. Another significant personality unfollowed by him is Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
People close to Gandhi’s office, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said his move did not point to any differences.
“It’s wrong to say that he has anything against those who he unfollowed…It’s just that there is no point in following who he works with,” a person aware of the developments said, commenting on why Gandhi unfollowed some of his aides. This logic, however, could come under scrutiny with the counterargument being that there’s no harm in following colleagues.
On journalists, the person quoted above said: “He (Gandhi) interacts with them through press conferences.” But then questions could be asked that why follow them in the first place.
Another person aware of the developments said, “There has to be a policy in place (on who to follow and who not to follow). For party workers, it matters if Rahul Gandhi follows them…”
For instance, the Congress leader used to follow, and then unfollowed, Amitabh Bachchan. But Gandhi never followed another Bollywood star, Shahrukh Khan, who is considered close to his sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Party insiders said this could be the beginning of a new churning in the Congress and Gandhi could be selective in his approach on following people on Twitter.
According to the insiders, Priyanka Gandhi was aware of her brother’s decision. The view in the family is that Gandhi should follow only those who could boost his image or benefit him in spreading his political messages.
Pratik Sinha, the co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, and stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra, a fierce critic of the government, are among others unfollowed by Gandhi. They have been critical of the Congress leader in the past.
Gandhi’s Twitter account has been a trigger for intense debates in the past as well. He joined the social media space in 2015 and had used the handle, @OfficeofRG, for a long time. Finally, in 2018, he changed his account to @RahulGandhi.
Film actor-turned-politician Divya Spandana handled his social media account in the initial days. She entered Team Rahul with much publicity, but soon a rift became apparent. The buzz is that she posted some photos of Gandhi during a Germany tour — which the Congress high command did not approve of. Her budget was slashed and she was eventually side-lined, with Nikhil taking on the mantle. He too appears to have taken the back seat. Nikhil used to interact with journalists and believed Gandhi should follow mediapersons.
Gandhi’s tweets, packed with wit and a stinging criticism of the government, have gained attention over the years, though that has not translated to electoral gains. Once he said his pet dog, Pidi, wrote his tweets.