RaGa’s failed Twitter battle

How did Rahul Gandhi fare in the Twitter battle with the redoubtable Narendra Modi in the run-up to 2019 general elections? The Economic Times on May 28 published an article on how Prime Minister Modi won not just the Lok Sabha elections in spectacular fashion but also the Twitter contest with 2 trillion impressions over 74 days starting from the day of announcement of poll dates. Impressions are the number of times a post on a microblogging or social networking site is seen by a user. #MainBhiChowkidar had garnerd three times the traction for #ChowkidarChorHai, as published by the newspaper.

So far, quite a few publications have carried stories on Modi’s Twitter victory but little has been written about the Opposition’s Twitter handle. As part of the IMPECT study (#IMPECTStudy #WeAreWatchingYou), a brief analysis has been done on the Opposition candidate Indian National Congress (INC) president Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter handle and its content.

In the month of March, Gandhi posted 33 tweets which mainly comprised of themes like questioning PM Modi on release of Masood Azhar to Pakistan by the Vajpayee regime on the advice of Ajit Doval (presently National Security Adviser to PM Modi) to labelling the PM as ‘Weak Modi’ due to his silence and ineffective diplomacy on China’s obduracy in blocking Masood Azhar’s designation as a global terrorist. In this tweet, the phrase ‘NoMo’ instead of ‘NaMo’ was used to imply ‘No more Modi’. Rahul Gandhi often used ‘NoMo’ in his tweets attacking Narendra Modi.

On March 16, the historic #MainBhiChowkidar was launched by Narendra Modi as counter-attack to the #ChowkidarChorHain slogan and hashtag that Rahul Gandhi had been using in his previous public meetings. This campaign worked for Narendra Modi where thousands of Tweeples added the prefix ‘Chowkidar’ to their names. Gandhi on March 16 tweeted a photograph with the caption, ‘Defensive tweet Mr Modi! You feeling a little guilty today?’ On March 17, he tweeted the hashtag #ChowkidarChorHain. However, the anti-chowkidar campaign failed to fire. Both the tweets had an average of around 45k likes and 14k retweets. Besides, the chowkidar jibe, Gandhi’s posts in March were mainly attacks on Modi and his government with regards to unemployment, poverty and also national security. This besides, he posted updates on his campaigns and Congress committee meetings across different regions.

On March 25, #NYAYForIndia was launched with Rahul Gandhi taking a pledge through a tweet to eradicate poverty. He also used terms like Gabbar Singh Tax and Goodbye Angel Tax for GST. His most popular March tweet which had over 84k likes was congratulating DRDO on Mission Shakti and wishing PM Modi ‘Happy World Theatre Day’, implying that the latter should stop taking credit for Mission Shakti.

In April, there were 55 tweets with #CongressManifesto2019 taking centrestage on Rahul Gandhi’s timeline. The highlights of the Congress manifesto were tweeted throughout the month. An important hashtag that yet again failed to capture the minds of Indians was #AbHogaNYAY tweeted on April 16, with Gandhi publishing the NYAY campaign video stating ‘Congress party’s commitment to India’. The tweet that garnered the maximum likes of around 65k and retweets of more than 19k was on April 9 in which Gandhi challenged the PM for an open debate on Rafale, Anil Ambani, Nirav Modi, Amit Shah and demonetisation.

In the month of May (till May 23), Gandhi’s tweets had the highest likes and retweets. There were over nine tweets out of 40 tweets which had likes of 65k plus. The highest was on May 23 with over 199k likes for his tweet where he congratulated the ruling BJP for its victory and thanked the country by ‘accepting the verdict of the people.’ Another tweet with 112k likes was a note to Modi saying, “...Projecting you inner beliefs about yourself onto my father won’t protect you’. Tweets on Narendra Modi showing up at his first press conference at the BJP headquarters (where he refused to field any questions) to taking a dig at the BJP and Modi for being ‘God-se lovers’ and not ‘God-ke lovers’, #RememberRajivGandhi and the confusion over his jibe ‘Modilie’ did lead to word battles among the Tweeple, but at the same time kept Gandhi’s twitter handle proactive.

From March 10 to May 23, Rahul Gandhi sent out 128 tweets in total. The subjects he addressed in his tweets can be classified into five categories — firstly, those in which he attacked Modi and the BJP regime; secondly, those in which he extended warm wishes on festivals or paid tributes on birth or death anniversaries of prominent freedom fighters or political leaders; thirdly, those which dealt with secularism and other Congress ideals (there were around 30 tweets in 74 days emphasising on this theme and some were written in different Indian languages); fourthly, condolence tweets on tragic events like the New Zealand killings, Sri Lanka bomb blasts, Mumbai footbridge collapse and destruction due to Cyclone Fani; fifthly, interviews with different publications and campaign updates especially on rallies, manifesto and the NYAY promise.

Overall, Rahul Gandhi’s tweets were witty, well-planned and clearly articulated the Congress ideology of secularism and inclusiveness. He did make some impact, as can be gathered from the 9.6 million followers that he has. However, his twitter campaign failed to ignite the flame and strike home among the majority of Indians. The image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his leadership, significant body of work and his astute campaign team nixed Rahul Gandhi’s attempt to prove the ‘chowkidar’ a ‘chor’.

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