New Delhi: Rahul Gandhi's Twitter outreach has played a key role in changing perceptions about him, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor has said urging the party chief to maintain his "unique communication" with the people and to ignore "trolls and troglodytes".
Tharoor, who was recently edged out by Gandhi as the most-followed Congress leader on Twitter, also said social media could prove to be a "game influencer" in 2019. In an interview to PTI, he said the Congress's counter-narrative to the BJP on social media was "witty, eye-catching and trendsetting".
"Even the BJP would do well to now try and take a leaf or two" out of the Congress's book, the former Union minister said, while also stressing his party did not seek to define itself on social media in metrics comparable to the BJP.
Asked if the microblogging site played a key role in helping people get to know the Congress president and changing his image from a reluctant politician to a dedicated leader, the MP from Thiruvananthapuram said, "Yes, very much so." "His enthusiasm on social media, his wit, energy and sense of humour are all on display. This is a man whose engagement on this platform speaks to a wider engagement with politics. There is no 'reluctance' on display here, only commitment and passion to make a better India," the 62-year-old leader said.
But while Tharoor lauded Gandhi for being "sharp and incisive on social media", he said the party chief was also "attentive and involved" with the concerns of the country and that had won him plaudits.
"I think it is his work on the ground that has really made him stand out of late and has carved this dynamic image of Rahul as a constructive and attentive statesman. Personally, as someone who urged him to join Twitter, I'm delighted by his popularity on this medium as well," he said.
Gandhi recently notched up a following of 6.79 million as against Tharoor's just over 6.69 million. However, he is still well behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has 42.3 million followers on Twitter.
Asked what he would advise Gandhi now after having urged him to join Twitter, Tharoor said he would ask him to ignore trolls -- those who routinely and vitriolically abuse people with different views -- and troglodytes, defined as cave-dwellers or someone being deliberately ignorant or old-fashioned.
"I would tell him to keep at it, continue to maintain this unique channel of communication with the people of the country and ignore the trolls and troglodytes along the way, since the positives vastly outweigh the negatives on this medium," Tharoor said.
Asked if the battle for 2019 polls would be fought online between parties, he said, "I think it (social media) can be a game influencer, but I wouldn't go beyond that at this stage and concede that it will be the 'real' battleground for 2019...You need various ways of reaching out to the electorate, and social media happens to offer an additional way, not a substitute for any of the traditional means of campaigning." But the election post 2019 could be a different ball game, he said.
"I do not think it will necessarily be a game changer on its own in 2019. But if things are going the way they are going, then perhaps the answer may be different in 2024," he said.
Lauding the Congress's recent social media outreach, Tharoor said the party's social media team under the “energetic” leadership of Divya Spandana had done some "terrific work" in the past couple of years to carve out a "unique niche" for the party.
Spandana also believed that social media could make a "huge impact" in the 2019 polls.
India's young were great users of social media and so it would be "very important" to reach out to that section of the people who use the medium, she told PTI. Tharoor conceded that there were negative sides to social media as well, describing the phenomenon of "trolling" as a clear indication that one could twist what might otherwise have been a very useful means of communication to "nefarious purposes, political purposes and abuse".
On being the first leader in the Congress to embrace Twitter and his journey on the platform, he said it made him more accessible to the people and vice versa.
"So it is really a mutually beneficial relationship that I share with people via social media. If in the process it contributes to my political 'branding', so much the better," he said.