Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Ramban on Wednesday. | Credit: NISSAR AHMAD
As the Bharat Jodo Yatra traveled to Srinagar from Kanniyakumari, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi addressed 13 press conferences, with the last expected on Sunday. But Mr. Gandhi, who is the face of the Yatra, has steadfastly refused to submit any request for a one-on-one interview with a 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 and Twitter.
“She [mainstream media] don’t want to listen. It’s like they know everything. They have already decided what they must and must not do. So what’s the point of talking to them. But if someone is open-minded, you can talk to them,” Mr. Gandhi told a group of journalists who run independent YouTube channels when he met them three weeks ago.
change of strategy
But aside from the congressional leader’s reluctance to give interviews to mainstream journalists, the focus on YouTubers also reflects a change in the party’s communications strategy to reach younger age groups and youth.
Supriya Shrinate, head of the social media department, claimed the party has been “forced” to make it big on social media. “With a large chunk of media blacking out the Bharat Jodo Yatra for its implications, we had to focus on social media,” she said The Hindu.
Her team not only curates Mr. Gandhi’s memorable moments and interactions for the Bharat Jodo Yatra-specific Twitter handle and app, but also regularly creates video snippets of the yatra to be shared and retweeted by senior party leaders, MPs, and the Prime Ministers of Congress governed states.
Officials from frontal organizations such as the Indian Youth Congress, Mahila Congress, National Students Union of India and the Seva Dal are also regularly reminded to retweet and share the videos of Mr Gandhi’s interactions during the yatra.
The party has also hired Teen Bandar, a Mumbai-based firm, to boost Bharat Jodo Yatra’s social media presence on digital platforms. YouTubers who primarily focus on specific counties or a state have been roped in for a “hyperlocal approach.”
There is a carefully crafted strategy for presenting the various aspects of Mr. Gandhi and not just him as a politician, such as how he learned to do chole bhatur by a retired soldier, Naik Deepchand, in Haryana or how he discussed cars with the popular YouTuber Bombay Journey.
increase in followers
The number of subscribers to Mr. Gandhi’s YouTube channel has surpassed 1.25 million, mainly due to the video content. His followers on Instagram have increased to 2.7 million from 1.8 million before the start of the yatra. On Facebook, the number of followers is 6.3 million, compared to 5 million before the Yatra.
“In just 140 days, Instagram followers have increased by 50% and Facebook by 26%,” said an official of the All India Congress Committee.
On Instagram, the Congress Party’s followers have grown from 9 lakh before the yatra to more than 1.2 million.
Taking note of the push on social media, a senior BJP leader said: “It is both late and early. While we focused on social media in 2013/2014, now they’ve woken up. But it is too early now to sustain momentum for the 2024 election.”