After donning the hat of a reporter where he interviewed experts on economy and health issues, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has now launched his own Telegram channel. Available on the messaging app, Gandhi's channel aims to connect directly with people and will feature his views and conversations. The account will be formally verified soon.
The move is seen as a solution to the common grievance of the Congress that most media outlets black out their point of view and give little or no weight to opposition politicians. Gandhi arrived late on social media but sensing this is where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP scored, he has caught up. At present, for example, he has over 14 million followers on Twitter. At his most aggressive, Gandhi uses Twitter to take potshots at the government, especially at the prime minister. The former Congress president also has Instagram, Facebook and YouTube accounts. Is a channel then a good idea and the new normal for politicians now?
Dilip Cherian, brand consultant and image maker, says: “We have discovered there were two major public problems. One is not quite sure that what is available on digital is verifiable. Also, there was so much information that some people complained they were not getting what they were looking for. We have been championing for owned media. It has few adherents. Like, if you are on Twitter, you have your own feed on owned media, similarly if you are on Instagram, it can be put on owned media. Your owned media becomes responsible and a repository of everything you are saying. It is believable, it is instantaneous and third, it doesn’t depend on distribution channels. We have NaMo app but it’s seen as invasive. In this sense, this idea from Gandhi is very good.”
The growing popularity of apps and social media was first recognised by the BJP, especially Modi, during his first Lok Sabha campaign. Over the years, Modi used his strength on social media to connect with people through his ‘Mann ki Baat’ or NaMo app, redefining the ways of communication. The traditional television channels and radio may not attract as much traction as say the social media broadcast does. The target is younger people who are hooked to the net and social media apps.
Almost all ministers are on social media now; even the very staid Mayawati is on Twitter. But if Gandhi is to be the alternative to Modi, then every space is a battlefield. Hence, the concentration on social media.
Gandhi is prolific on Instagram now, which is largely used for picture posts. But this is not all. There are more plans to help him capture the social media space. Podcasts, YouTube channel interactions, ‘Talk to Rahul’, ‘Connect with Rahul’ are just some of the few ideas which are being mulled. The channel account of Gandhi is a first experiment being done by any politician and could soon emerge as the new normal. This, of course, gives rise to speculation whether Gandhi will make a comeback soon.
Murmurs began at the latest CWC and letters are being written to Sonia Gandhi to bring him back as party president. No decision has been taken on this yet, but one thing is certain that if and when Rahul Gandhi decides to come back, it will be on his own terms and conditions. For now, the battle for space has begun.