Meet the meme-king, Rahul Gandhi

By Nimesh Bansal

Memes rule the world of social media. And social media loves nothing more when someone becomes a human meme. Several world leaders have been on the receiving end of the somewhat-light-hearted shenanigans on social media by trolls, as their popularity gathers pace every day. Rahul Gandhi has long been the favourite whipping boy of social media jokes. But no more! Or so it would seem.

Rising through the ranks

The Congress vice president, Rahul Gandhi, has added around a million followers on Twitter over the past two months. The number of followers has increased from 2.49 million in July 2017 to 3.42 million in September 2017. Some have attributed the spurt to his increasingly focused engagements on social media, while some see it as a direct consequence of the assumed success of his recent US visit.

In a widely-publicised two-week visit to the USA, the Congress scion addressed students of UC Berkeley and Princeton, the Indian diaspora at New York and in San Francisco, met with various entrepreneurs in California’s Silicon Valley, and with civil representatives in Washington DC.

Rahul Gandhi has, in his previous visits to the US, specifically taken aim at the shortcomings of the Modi government. This time around, however, he did not name any person, group, or party. Addressing the Indian diaspora in New York, the Congress VP claimed, “Peace and harmony in India are being challenged, and there are forces that are dividing the country; India’s reputation in the world is being ruined.” He added, “Every day, around 30,000 youngsters enter the job market in India. Of these, only 450 get a job. Job creation is the biggest challenge facing in India. India cannot give its youngsters a vision if it cannot give them a job.”

Reception at home

These hard-hitting remarks garnered a mixed reception at home. Congress Chief Spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, “Overseas Indians wield considerable influence in the American establishment and in India. It is, therefore, important to connect with them.” Some party leaders added that in recent years, Congress’s lack of activity overseas had enabled parties like BJP and AAP to acquire a large fan following in the Indian community abroad. Members of the Congress believed that the Indian diaspora in the USA felt the party was not interested in them and hence, Rahul Gandhi’s visit was an important showcase of intent.

Others have criticised the Congress VP for leaving the party stranded on the eve of assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Critics, unhappy with Gandhi’s regular foreign jaunts, stated that instead of seeking approval from the Indian diaspora, Rahul Gandhi should prioritise winning the confidence of the electorate back home. “We need to put our house in order first,” was a quote from a senior Congress leader.

Paying attention to the social profile

In the light of such comments, it is difficult to imagine that the US tour did much for Rahul Gandhi’s social media numbers. Backing that up, there was no significant increase in social media following of the Congress VP during his two-week US tour. Experts attribute the spike to Congress’s growing presence on social media and Rahul Gandhi’s focused engagements on Twitter.

Recently, the party brought all its top leaders on Twitter and helped them in getting a ‘verified’ account. Verification is important for subscribers to establish a genuine identity on Twitter where multiple fake accounts are prevalent. Such an account helps the party save face when a controversial comment is made from an unverified handle. An unwritten rule set by the party for facilitating verification is reported to be that all handles should follow the Congress party and its Vice President-Rahul Gandhi.

Battle of the leaders

The increase, be it organic or inorganic, in the Twitter following has enthused the Congress-a relative newcomer in the world of social media largely dominated by arch-rival BJP. Rahul Gandhi’s social media presence, however, still pales in comparison to other prominent politicians. Donald Trump, for instance, has 39 million followers, while Narendra Modi—the first Indian prime minister to directly interact with the masses through social media—has 34.5 million followers.

Rahul Gandhi and his party have a long way to go to match the BJP’s popularity, be it on the ground, or in the world of social media. The recent surge in the Congress’s and especially Rahul Gandhi’s following may hardly be taken as an indicator of an increase in acceptance of the party, but it may signal the beginning of the end of Rahul’s rampant ridicule by internet trolls.

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