After consistently lagging its main rival in the digital battleground, the Congress is fighting back with a vengeance.
Even before Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi finished his high-voltage tirade against the union government at a seminar in Kolkata on Tuesday, tweets from the prime minister’s office (#PMOIndia) hit the ether, questioning many of his claims.
And on Monday, when Modi was still speaking at the Ficci Ladies Organisation, twitter handle #feku (slang for bluffer) came alive as a flag for caustic comments on his performance. Tehseen Poonawala, a pro-Congress activist, tweeted as soon as Modi spoke about women’s empowerment: “So #feku talks of empowering women! He appoints Maya Kodnani when she was accused (now convicted) for killing over 30 women.”
Supporters of India’s oldest political party had embraced technology to take on Modi, an accomplished and immensely popular user of social media, on an almost real-time basis.
The Twitter assault was the latest sign of a change that has been in train for some time now, and is being steered by party general secretary Digvijaya Singh and Rohtak MP Deepender Hooda. But regular inputs are taken from ministers like Manish Tewari, who are also active on social media, to ensure the government and the party’s views are reflected in cohesion.
“A committee was formed around four months ago to design the Congress campaign for 2014. Among other things, it lays great importance on online content,” Hooda told HT.
The party has deployed separate teams for its English, Hindi and Urdu sites. This in-house approach is in contrast to the BJP, which has outsourced its online campaign to professional agencies.
Modi's e-presence is such a big facet of his persona that he even saw fit to thank social media during his speech at Ficci.
But the Congress hopes it will soon catch up with the saffron brigade.
Digvijaya told NDTV in an interview: "Earlier there was total dominance of the RSS ideology in social media. In the last six months we have made a lot of inroads. In the next six months, people will see how far we have gone."
The Facebook account of the All-India Congress Committee (59,000 followers) has become active during the past three months while Yuvadesh — the mouthpiece of the Youth Congress — has opened a twitter handle (1,000 followers).
Team Rahul Gandhi has upgraded Khidkee.com into a full-fledged discussion forum on social and economic issues. "We are looking at integration between website, Facebook and Twitter," said a functionary involved in this work. Finance minister P Chidambaram and the Planning Commission went for a Google Hangout session to talk about the budget and 12th five-year plan. In January, the Congress had asked all AICC members to submit their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube identities as part of their latest biodata.
"Social media goes a long way in spreading your ideas not just among metro youth but also in small towns and parts of rural India," said Poonawala.