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OPINION | Pidi and Rahul Gandhi: Can Puns Win Polls for the Congress?

File photo of Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi.(Getty Images)

File photo of Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi.(Getty Images)

Rahul Gandhi's big social media ‘punar janam’ (reincarnation) is worth appreciating. The man has now started quipping, he has started sharing pictures and videos.

New Delhi: Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and his social media reincarnation are huge topics of interest. Some on social media platforms think this is a “frivolous” debate, but the sheer number of people talking and tweeting about it is overwhelming.

Unfortunately for Rahul Gandhi, the talk around him is incidental. The real interest is in Mr. Pidi. On Sunday, Rahul, seemingly fed up of speculation on whether a funny and quirky tweeter from @OfficeOfRG was actually him, tweeted out a video of his dog Pidi and credited the canine for the buzz his tweets are creating.

Social media did what it does best — take the video viral. Memes came up and Congress spokespersons queued up to explain how their leader’s ‘awww’ moment on social media was normal. The BJP was, frankly, a little confused. Dial-a-byte netas criticised Rahul Gandhi instantly, while others tried to figure out what had happened.

I am not arguing whether Rahul should or should not have a funny bone. In fact, I feel there is no dispute here. Politicians must be funny. They must know how to use wit. In fact, the sign of a mature and healthy democracy is when people start criticising and, more importantly, when they withstand criticism.

And it becomes even better if they use humour in the process.

Rahul Gandhi's big social media ‘punar janam’ (reincarnation) is worth appreciating. The man has now started quipping, he has started sharing pictures and videos.

A prominent Right-wing social media influencer Sonam Mahajan quips, “Rahul has always been funny. We must thank him for the comic relief he provides to all every day.”

Rahul has even personalised his social media connect. For instance, I have always recalled Rahul Gandhi call his mother the Congress president. Recently, he tweeted to publically call her ‘Ma’, a huge departure from past. And a pleasant one.

So who is the real Rahul Gandhi? Is this the real Rahul or was the earlier reticent Rahul the real one?

“This is the real one. He has always been a very witty person,” says lawyer Shehzad Poonawala, who represents the pro-Congress camp in television debates.

But there is another side to this debate. The biggest criticism of Rahul Gandhi's brand of politics is inconsistency, particularly his “vanishing act”.

Between June 13 and July 1, Rahul Gandhi was away in Italy to meet his grandmother. This was in the middle of a heated political debate on the Goods and Services Tax (GST). He was also widely criticised for being away in the US for 11 days to talk about artificial intelligence when clearly that wasn’t exactly in the Indian mind space. And who can forget Rahul being away for about two months in the backdrop of the 2014 Lok Sabha election debacle? Not to forget his poor attendance in Parliament which has been a matter of irritation for a few within the Congress as well.

So the question being asked is this — will he be consistent?

A person who works very closely in the AICC’s social media and digital communications team, headed by Divya Spandana, says: “Media blows hot and cold on him. He’s been consistent. Listen to his speeches from 2014 onwards. Be it demonetisation, GST, Make in India, farm loan waiver or land acquisition — he stood his ground and spoke the truth to power despite being trolled, abused and criticised by the media. He has built trust and credibility over the years. People realise that now.”

The BJP is not amused. Party spokesperson Nalin Kohli feels what he is doing in politics is the real joke.

“Politics is about serving people. It calls for a consistent and serious commitment for one to rise above personal aspirations. Its best left to the wisdom of the electorate to decide whether they will approve or disapprove of Mr Rahul Gandhi's new approach of treating a mission to serve them like a joke,” Kohli says.

The Grand Old Party most certainly requires a social media overhaul.

Sample this: the BJP has 7.2 million followers on Twitter. The Aam Aadmi Party is at 4.1 million. The Congress is trailing at 2.9 million. If we talk individuals, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands tallest at 36 million followers. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal is at 12.5 million. Here, too, Rahul is lagging at 4 million.

Also, we can safely say that Rahul Gandhi is a terribly slow learner. Twitter has been in India since 2006. The first Indian user was Naina Redhu, a photographer and brand specialist. She joined Twitter on July 13, 2006.

Rahul Gandhi joined on May 7, 2015, and that too as the Office of RG. Clearly, the intention was to use his handle @OfficeofRG as an information dissemination tool. A Twitter handle that will robotically dole out information, which will have no heart and soul. That seems to be changing now.

“Credit for the larger social media strategy must go to Divya Spandana. The INC social media team has been infused with vigour and a new sense of purpose and direction. Not just Office of RG, but even the official INC Twitter handles and State Pradesh Congress Committee handles have seen tremendous response from those who were not party supporters until now,” says Shehzad Poonawala.

Consistency aside, is wit and humour on social media alone enough to propel the Congress into becoming a force to reckon with? Can wit win elections? Can a punny and funny Rahul Gandhi win 2017, 2018 & 2019? Will GIFs, JPEGs and videos be Rahul’s new election warriors?

Priyanka Chaturvedi, a social media influencer-turned-Congress spokesperson, says: “This is not the only way he is communicating with people. He is out there on the ground talking to people and taking feedback, unlike the Prime Minister who does not like questions coming from the people or from the media.”

Sonam Mahajan has a different take. “If he is running for the Comic Person of the Year award, then yes, he will surely win elections. But in politics, I don’t think he has any future. Probably he has realised that and that’s why he is chilling out. There is a basic difference between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. The Prime Minister cannot pass comedy for something serious.”

Shehzad finds this argument flawed.

“You can't view humour alone as a strategy for direct political and electoral gains. You can't say ‘X’ is funny, hence he will win an election based on that. That is not what is happening here. Humour, wit and presence of mind are reflective of a political growth, maturity and evolution in any leader especially in a democratic country. Today, Rahul Gandhi is demonstrating a certain quality that global leaders like Lincoln, Churchill, Nehru were known for — their self-deprecating humour and quick wittedness which showed they were tolerant, intelligent and astute.”

Until Rahul’s next tweet then…