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Monday, July 22, 2013

Cong opens the social window to polls 07-23

Cong opens the social window to polls

Kavita Chowdhury
When Rahul Gandhi, then the newly-appointed Congress vice-president, addressed a CII conclave earlier this year, the social media took a dig and it started trending on Twitter as #PappuCII. Even as it was said the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) organised social media trolls were at work, Gandhi’s (aka Pappu’s) address generated 40,000 tweets. Then, the 128-year-old GOP (Grand Old Party), the Congress, did not know what had hit it.

But, a few days later, when Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modistarted speaking at Ficci, #Feku (aka Modi) was topping the trends with 45,000 tweets — the Congress had hurriedly got its act together.

Three months on, the party has revamped its media cell, called the ‘communications department’. The cell, headed by Ajay Maken, has brought the volunteer programme, ‘With Congress’, in a move to encourage Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs) to live stream press conferences on Youtube.

The cell on Monday launched Khidkee.com, a social media platform for Congress workers across the board to enable “internal conversations with the party’s top brass.”

Now, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) seems to be truly on a roll.

The Congress on Monday kicked off its first ever workshop on communication to train its spokespersons and state representatives on how to get across UPA’s initiatives and messages in the run-up to the 2014 general elections. The two-day workshop, called the ‘All India Communication Workshop’ is training party members on handling the conventional print and television and the new social media.

For a party infamous for reacting only when pushed and whose president, Sonia Gandhi, has been panned as the ‘Sphinx’, the Congress is truly on a communication overdrive spearheaded by Rahul Gandhi.

At a time the UPA government under the Congress was being lambasted for its alleged scams, the party’s high command feared “the Congress message of social welfare initiatives were getting lost in the din”. So, the media & communications overhaul is expected to turn the corners for the party.

The much talked about Khidkee.com is a social media platform — much like Facebook but exclusively for partymen. It is open to members of the Indian Youth Congress, Congress and its students wing NSUI. Petroleum Minister M Veerappa Moily’s son-in-law Anand Adkoli, a techie with a stint at Oracle, was the brains behind the ‘Khidkee’ initiative.

In Rahul Gandhi’s words, “it is a window that will enable conversations between the party workers with the top brass”. The members will be given a login id, will be able to put up posts, have discussions on policy initiatives and discuss issues with leaders, who would otherwise have been inaccessible.

Even as the Congress is are slogging to beef up its social media presence, the UPA government it leads, too, is not far behind. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), with its Twitter handle @PMOIndia, has been hyper active — tweeting snippets of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statements on the economy, on development, etc, within seconds of those being uttered at events. Statistics, charts and reports are routinely uploaded on the Twitter handle.

An insider of the communications wing of the party emphasises: “The two planks of the Congress are food security and development. Direct benefits transfer will also be thrown into this mix. That’s the only way we can counter the Opposition onslaught on corruption.” In fact, that is the reason why the Congress was so pro-active in countering Narendra Modi when he questioned UPA’s track record. “Development is the only plank on which we can go to the polls and there is no way we can let Modi peddle his lies on that and take away our advantage,” the party shot back on Twitter.

Explaining the economic initiatives of UPA to the assembled Congressmen on Monday, Finance Minister P Chidambaram reportedly said: “Stress on the regional media. The English media and English newspaper readers have no real impact on elections.” Was that the astute finance minister’s strike to hit the nail right on the head?