Pappu pass ho gaya: How Rahul and Congress changed the narrative | India News - Times of India (2024)

So how did a ‘dynastic’ party that was accused of having lost touch with reality, and led by a man dubbed ‘pappu’ and ‘shehzaada’, change the narrative around it? That’s a question many are asking after the

Congress

turnaround in the recent Lok Sabha election.
While people are crediting influencers, some of whom have millions of subscribers, it isn’t as simple or unidimensional as that.

Changing the perception of Congress leader

Rahul Gandhi

from that of a part-time politician to one holding and upholding the Constitution has been a giant leap that began with the Bharat Jodo Yatra (

BJY

) in September 2022.
That leap was orchestrated by a dedicated war room, and savvy marketing professionals who knew how to use humour (the Congress Kerala handle on X is one great example) and a little drama (rolling out washing machines at rallies to wash BJP’s alleged ‘dirty laundry’ in public.)

Political consultant

Sunil Kanugolu had used mock ATM machines that were fed fake currency notes to highlight corruption during the Telangana election last year.
A panel headed by Ajay Maken and including experienced heads like KC Venugopal and Jairam Ramesh steered the ship in tandem with external teams from the party war room, as well as advertising and media agencies. They met daily initially, even thrice on some days, to ensure that the outreach machine kept humming. To quote a phrase Rahul Gandhi used often in the election, Congress counters came ‘khatakhat, khatakhat’.

Some of that behind-the-scenes work was handled by marketing and communications firm Teen Bandar, which was hired for BJY and its second leg Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra. The plan was to capture Gandhi walking the length of the country, holding impromptu discussions and chats, says Prashant Chari, co-founder of Teen Bandar. “People did not believe that he would walk the whole day, for days on end. But through the daily release of multiple short snippets of his candid interactions and usage of pop culture, the yatra became immensely popular on

social media

,” he says.
The long beard and white T-shirt created an image of an atypical politician who was consumed by the journey rather than his looks. “Gandhi appeared spontaneous, concerned and most of all sincere in his intentions towards the public,” says a media professional.
For the

election campaign

, DDB Mudra, Teen Bandar and other agencies created a mix of messages. Advertisem*nts included a series of blogs and information videos attacking industrialists allegedly close to PM Narendra Modi, creating a counter-narrative to BJP’s ‘mangalsutra cheen lenge’ charge, and emphasising its intentions to “change” the Constitution and end reservations for backward castes. The Ram temple issue was deliberately kept low-key.
“The main tagline ‘Haath Badlega Halaat’ (Congress will change circ*mstances) took inspiration from the 2004 campaign ‘Congress ka Haath, Aam Aadmi ke Saath’,” says a communications professional. While the 2004 slogan beat NDA’s India Shining campaign and helped Congress sail to victory, this one didn’t go as far but it did pave the way for a resurgent opposition. The main slogan was supplemented by ads like ‘Mere Vikas Ka Do Hisaab’ and ‘Sab Theek Nahi Hai’ that addressed issues of unemployment, inflation and corruption.
It wasn’t just a negative campaign. Positive messaging underlined the Congress ‘panch nyay’ or promises of a lakh a year to women under the Mahalakshmi scheme. Other guarantees include caste census and providing employment for youth.
The change in perception was slow but steady. YouTube subscribers for Gandhi’s page rose from 500k in 2021 to 7.2 million at present while followers on Instagram increased from 1.7 million to 9.4 million.
“We made sure that we set the narrative by reaching out to people directly, without falling into our opponents’ narrative,” says Chari. It was not just about content, but timing too. A social media professional who was part of the party war room says, “At the beginning of the year, four teams were created based on language and region and each had 900-1,000 interns whose job was to coordinate with local cadre and create WhatsApp groups for easy dissemination of messages.”
Attack advertisem*nts and statements by Congress leaders busting half-truths or responding to BJP attacks were quickly spread through this network.
Another example of the nimble-footed response came when, after the election results, Congress’ Kerala handle tweeted an image of TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu sitting with SP leader Akhilesh Yadav. The caption read, “Don’t panic Modiji, it’s an old pic.” The post has been retweeted 9,400 times, attracting 4.2 million views in just a week.
P Sarin, coordinator of digital campaign of Congress in Kerala, said the account did pan-India content rather than Kerala alone. “We mainly focused on three things — myth busting, historical comparison, humorous presentation of facts. Verification of facts is a major factor, as social media platforms in India are polluted with fake news items and misleading messages,” he says, adding that all social media accounts of INC Kerala would be active in the coming years to act as a good ‘opposition’ to Modi 3.0.
(With inputs from Nijeesh Narayanan)

Pappu pass ho gaya: How Rahul and Congress changed the narrative | India News - Times of India (2024)
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