Rahul Gandhi 3.0 Can Tweet

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

The worm fi­nally turns. Af­ter be­ing the butt of many of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s most sting­ing barbs, Congress Vice-Pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi has fi­nally stopped turn­ing the other cheek. At least on Twit­ter.

He has rechris­tened the Goods and Ser­vices Tax (GST) as the ‘Gab­bar Singh Tax’. The eco­nomic slow­down was dubbed ‘MMD’, or ‘Modi-Made Dis­as­ter’. Modi might still be the king of acronyms, but Gandhi has cer­tainly drawn some acro­nym blood.

For years, Gandhi has largely tog­gled be­tween two states – AWOL and Deathly Earnest. He spe­cialised in pro­ject­ing a monochro­matic kind of Do­or­dar­shan dull while pol­i­tics had moved into a Tech­ni­colour world of 24x7 cable fer­vour. This newer ‘May the Farce be with you’ Rahul Gandhi seems to fi­nally be hav­ing some fun in pol­i­tics. That is a much more ap­peal­ing per­sona than the re­luc­tant school­boy weighed down by his home­work.

His lat­est video fea­tures Pidi, his dog. “Peo­ple have been ask­ing who tweets for this guy [Rahul]. I am com­ing clean… it’s me... Pidi... I am way cooler than him.” Ex-Con­gress­man and now BJP leader Hi­manta Biswa Sarma re­sponded sourly say­ing he quit the Congress be­cause he was in­sulted that Gandhi was more ap­par­ently in­ter­ested in feed­ing bis­cuits to his dog than in dis­cussing As­sam’s prob­lems with him. Per­haps so. But it does show that you can teach an old dog a few new tricks.

It’s quite a role re­ver­sal – a fin­ger­wag­ging dour BJP and a wise-crack­ing sly Gandhi who is not afraid of a bit of self-dep­re­ca­tion. As Omar Ab­dul­lah tweeted “Any­one can make fun of oth­ers, so it’s re­fresh­ing to have na­tional lead­ers who aren’t afraid to be funny at their own ex­pense.” It’s dou­bly re­fresh­ing to see Gandhi cheer­fully play­ing se­cond fid­dle to his dog at a time when a dog Snapchat fil­ter on the au­gust per­son of the PM re­sulted in an FIR be­ing reg­is­tered. The BJP is ob­vi­ously an­noyed, espe

cially since Gandhi is steal- ing from its own book. So­cial me­dia has been the rul­ing party’s forte. A pha­lanx of the BJP’s big guns, from Arun Jait­ley to Amit Shah, have trained ar­tillery fire on Gandhi, in­ad­ver­tently giv­ing him a charis­ma­boost. Not so long ago, he was rou­tinely dis­missed as the ‘young leader’ just learn­ing to give speeches. Now pur­ported BJP al­lies, San­jay Raut of the Shiv Sena and Ram­das Athawale of the Re­pub­li­can Party of In­dia (Athawale) have is­sued char­ac­ter cer- tifi­cates for Gandhi’s newly ac­quired lead­er­ship qual­i­ties. “He is not ‘Pappu’ any­more,” said Athawale. “He looks con­fi­dent.” Or, at least, Pappu can tweet.

But the Congress should not get too ex­cited about the rein­ven­tion of Rahul Gandhi. A tweet, even a vi­ral one, doth not a revo­lu­tion make. As a young leader, he should have been at the fore­front of so­cial me­dia. In­stead it is older lead­ers like Modi — and Don­ald Trump — who were able to har­ness its power and un­der­cut main­stream me­dia.

Re­ports have it that Gandhi was luke­warm to the idea of so­cial me­dia be­cause he saw it as the play­ground of the ‘suited-booted’ class, the mid­dle­class with smart­phones. That he’s wo­ken up to its po­ten­tial is good news for the Congress. But it’s still about play­ing catch-up.

Gandhi’s fol­lower count has gone from 2.49 mil­lion in July to over 4 mil­lion -- still a far cry from Modi’s 36 mil­lion. Some ob­servers have said that it’s not Gandhi who has changed as much as the coun­try, which is los­ing its taste for Modi’s acro­nym-soup of prom­ises. The suc­cess of Gandhi’s US tour pro­voked an an­gry back­lash from the BJP, which in turn helped ev­ery­one take Gandhi a lit­tle more se­ri­ously. The dan­ger for the Congress now is to read too much into the new and im­proved Rahul Gandhi. So­cial me­dia can go vi­ral, but it is still vir­tual. There’s no proof that the party’s for­tunes have changed on the ground. If the pub­lic is skep­ti­cal of Modi’s spin, it’s even more skep­ti­cal of the stay­ing power of Gandhi’s prow­ess. Gandhi may com­mu­ni­cate well in a univer­sity in Cal­i­for­nia, but he’s not run­ning for of­fice there.

With­out a grass­roots or­gan­i­sa­tion and fol­low-up, it can trans­late into lit­tle by way of gains on the ground. The Congress, as a party, has failed to rally the Opposition par­ties even on an is­sue as con­tentious as de­mon­eti­sa­tion. Whereas once it was guilty of un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the power of so­cial me­dia, it could over­hype it now as the Se­cond Com­ing of Rahul the Mes­siah. So­cial me­dia is the means. It’s easy to be se­duced into think­ing of it as the end.

In the end, en­gage­ment will be mea­sured by votes, not retweets.

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