In telegraphing Bharat Jodo Yatra lore, medium is the message for Congress

Rahul Gandhi has interacted with influencers and journalists who are popular on social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter

Updated - January 27, 2023 09:38 am IST

Published - January 26, 2023 08:28 pm IST - New Delhi

Congress Leader Rahul Gandhi  during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Ramban on January 25, 2023.

Congress Leader Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Ramban on January 25, 2023. | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

As the Bharat Jodo Yatra travelled from Kanniyakumari to Srinagar, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi addressed 13 press conferences, with the final one expected on Sunday. Yet, Mr. Gandhi, who is the the face of the yatra, has steadfastly refused to entertain any request for a one-on-one interview with any mainstream media house. Instead, he has chosen to interact with influencers and journalists who are popular on social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.

“They [mainstream media] don’t want to listen. It is as if they know everything. They have already taken a decision as to what they need to do and what they don’t need. So, what’s the point of talking to them. But if someone has an open mind, then one can talk to them,” Mr. Gandhi told a group of journalists who run independent YouTube channels when he met them three weeks ago.

Change in strategy

But beyond the Congress leader’s reluctance to give interviews to mainstream journalists, the focus on YouTubers also reflects a change in the party’s communication strategy to reach out to younger age groups and youth.

Supriya Shrinate, who heads the social media department, claimed that the party had been “forced” to go big on social media. “As a large section of the media blacked out the Bharat Jodo Yatra because of its impact, we had to focus on social media,” she told The Hindu.

In addition to curating the memorable moments and interactions of Mr. Gandhi for the Bharat Jodo Yatra-specific Twitter handle and app, her team also regularly makes video snippets of the yatra to be shared and retweeted by senior party leaders, MPs and Chief Ministers of the Congress-ruled States.

Office-bearers of frontal organisations such as the Indian Youth Congress, the Mahila Congress, the National Students Union of India and the Seva Dal also get regular reminders to retweet and share the videos of the interactions of Mr. Gandhi during the yatra.

The party has also contracted Teen Bandar, a Mumbai-based firm, to amplify the Bharat Jodo Yatra’s social media presence across digital platforms. YouTubers who mainly focus on particular districts or a State have been roped in for a “hyper-local approach”.

There is a carefully crafted strategy to showcase the different aspects of Mr. Gandhi and not just him as a politician, such as how he learnt to make chole bhature from a retired soldier, Naik Deepchand, in Haryana or how he discussed automobiles with popular YouTuber, Bombay Journey.

Rise in followers

Largely driven by the video content, the number of subscribers to Mr. Gandhi’s YouTube channel has crossed 1.25 million. His follower count on Instagram has jumped to 2.7 million from 1.8 million before the start of the yatra. On Facebook, the follower count is 6.3 million, compared with 5 million before the yatra.

“In just a span of 140 days, there has been a 50% increase in followers on Instagram and a 26% increase on Facebook,” said an All India Congress Committee functionary.

On Instagram, the Congress party’s followers have increased to more than 1.2 million from 9 lakh before the yatra.

Taking note of the social media push, a senior BJP leader said, ”It’s late as well as early. While we focussed on social media way back in 2013/2014, they have woken now. But it’s too early now to keep the momentum going for the 2024 poll.”

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