Congress social media cell in Kerala: From backroom boys to poll candidates

The cell was set up in January 2019 with a team whose average age is 27. Shashi Tharoor, the Congress lawmaker from Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, chairs it. Anil Antony, son of former defence minister AK Antony, is its convenor
Former Kerala chief minister and senior Congress leader Oommen Chandy at Puthuppally constituency in Kottayam, ahead of assembly elections. (HT file)
Former Kerala chief minister and senior Congress leader Oommen Chandy at Puthuppally constituency in Kottayam, ahead of assembly elections. (HT file)
Updated on Apr 01, 2021 05:23 AM IST
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By Saubhadra Chatterji, New Delhi

At least three candidates and many key campaigners for the Congress in poll-bound Kerala have been associated with its state social media cell, which is also the party’s largest wing of its kind, people aware of the matter said.

Former bureaucrat P Sarin, Vijay Hari, and PS Prashant are contesting from Ottapalam, Manalur, and Nedumangad. Sarin and Prashant are the state committee members of the cell while Vijay, an entrepreneur, is a convenor. Sarin, who has been associated with Youth Congress, is a former Indian Audit and Accounts Service officer. Vijay, too, has risen through the party ranks.

The cell was set up in January 2019 with a team whose average age is 27. Shashi Tharoor, the Congress lawmaker from Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, chairs it. Anil Antony, son of former defence minister AK Antony, is its convenor. Almost 10,000 volunteers, with over 1,000 from Middle East and Europeon countries, had registered.

“We have a very decentralised ecosystem. We are active across all platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp. Now, our presence on Instagram and Twitter is also building,” Anil Antony said.

The cell has attracted talent from various fields. One of its coordinators, Jyoti Vijaykumar, recently shot to fame for her role as a translator during Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s poll campaigns. Muhammad Iqbal, who heads its West Asian division, is a fire engineer and teaches the subject at universities.

George Lawrance, the cell’s state committee member, an MBA, has headed Tharoor’s Thiruvananthapuram office.

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Iqbal, who has a fire safety business in Jeddah, said, “I have to spend a lot of time for my business and cannot give my entire time for politics. This profile in the digital team of KPCC [Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee] suits me. I have been able to form chapters of KPCC IT cell in all Gulf states and there are at least a few thousand volunteers working under me.”

With centres at Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode, the social media team has set up war rooms in all 14 Kerala districts. The team, Anil Antony said, includes content creators, online editors, and videographers among others for 360-degree coverage.

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A Congress strategist said the team unofficially collaborates with a few Congress-leaning Malayalis having more than 200,000 Facebook followers. The team, the strategist added, also produces “unofficial content” without the party symbol which the Congress uses through independent sources for social influence.

Kerala remains one of the Congress’s strongholds where the party is hoping to wrest power. The Congress swept the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in the state by winning 15 out of 20 seats even as it lost the national polls for the second time in a row. Its allies won four seats out of the remaining five in Kerala in 2019.

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Saturday, October 16, 2021