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Indian National Congress Skirts Political Twitter War By Launching Own Social Media Site

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, July 29 2013

Screenshot of Khidkee

India's grand old party, the Indian National Congress, is losing the political war taking place on the most popular social media platforms. With general elections for the lower house of India's parliament coming up in 2014, Congress leaders are revamping their social media strategy. Part of their out-of-left-field solution was to launch their own social media platform. A Facebook and Twitter hybrid, Khidkee went live July 23.

Khidkee is part of a larger strategy to consolidate Congress party views online. Vice president of the Congress party Rahul Gandhi spoke at the beginning of the two day social media workshop for Congress party members last week when Khidkee launched. In his speech he asked attendees to parrot the party line:

In his inaugural address, the Congress vice president said the projection of party's image will automatically boost personal image of individual and asked leaders to focus on "positive" politics.

Gandhi asked party leaders to speak in one voice and remain united. He also told them not to focus on projecting themselves as individuals but stay focused on projecting the party.

During the workshop the Congress party also revealed a new tool called Samparak that will simultaneously push party material out on all the various social media platforms.

A First Post review of the site said it was “like a social networking platform for Congress supporters and workers. . .At present, however, Khidkee doesn’t disseminate any valuable information about either the party’s political position on various issues or about the government’s policies.”

In addition to unveiling their two new toys, the party has also increased surveillance of Congress representatives according to the New Indian Express:

So that the social networking tools—Twitter, blogs, Facebook, bulk SMS and WhatsApp—can be used as force multipliers, the national and the state-level Congress spokespersons have been drafted in. All of them have been made to submit their Twitter handles to the AICC department overseeing the party’s social networking, headed by young MP Deepender Hooda. This is to keep a watch on whether they are going astray or strictly following the party line and can be retweeted.

In the past few years, Congress has had more than a few problems with so-called “party loud-mouths,” according to Daily Mail India. These have caused controversies and rifts in the party, although Congress representatives try to frame it in a positive light.

"If there are different opinions in the party, it should be taken as the strength of democracy,” said Congress spokesperson Meem Afzal when asked why Congress leaders were “speaking in different voices.”

In stark contrast to the flailing Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the opposing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Narendra Modi has almost two million Twitter followers.

“I am happy to note that the BJP as an organization is looking to creatively harness social media to crowd source ideas on how we can change and transform India for the better,” Modi said in an interview with Asian News International.

Although Modi is clearly winning the war online, it is still unclear whether that will translate to votes. The Index on Censorship explains that, while there is a politically active minority on Twitter, “most middle class Indians experience political activity on Twitter through news reports on TV than actually by engaging with the medium themselves.”

If social media has anything to do with it, however, Modi could be India's next prime minister while the Congress party struggles to play catch up.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.