China jibes: Congress plays to English-speaking social media fans as grassroots support wanes

Abhijit Majumder

We are talking about an urban, English-speaking man from a very privileged family. Though stuck in the wrong job, he is popular in the pub circuit. People there laugh at his jokes. For them, he is a radical thinker who is more comfortable discussing Black Lives Matter or inter-sectional feminism than cultural nationalism or civilisational roots.

He neither knows his building watchmen's names nor connects with their world, but posts fiery stuff on migrant workers' plight.

He is suitably deracinated and un-vernacular. He gets lots of Facebook likes and friend requests from the right crowd, but if he needs a friend to help him in the bad, wide world outside the internet, he would struggle to find such a number on his phone.

If the Congress party were a person, this would be him.

In the king-again-in-waiting Rahul Gandhi's little shindig, claps have not ceased over him repeatedly mocking the government while a live conflict with a superpower rages at the border. Some of his attacks are downright uninformed. He questions why Indian soldiers were not carrying arms, oblivious that past Congress governments had signed border patrol protocol agreements with China in 1993, 1996 and 2005 to ensure both parties do not use firearms and escalate a conflict.

Then he attacks the government using a wounded soldier's father's video.

That quickly backfires too, with the jawan's father asking him to respect armed forces and not do politics over this crisis.

On Sunday, Rahul posted a bizarre tweet. He probably tried to twist Narendra Modi's name to Surrender Modi in the China context, but ended up misspelling it 'Surender', generating much mirth online.

Sonia Gandhi had earlier led the charge. In one brush stroke, she tarred the nation's government, armed forces and intelligence officials.

"Does the government not receive, on a regular basis, satellite pictures of the borders of our country?" she asked at Friday's all-party meeting. "Did our external intelligence agencies not report any unusual activity along the LAC? Did Military Intelligence not alert the government about the intrusion and the build-up of massive forces along the LAC, whether on the Chinese side or on the Indian side? In the government's considered view, was there a failure of intelligence?"

Sharad Pawar reportedly snubbed her at the meeting, saying issues like whether soldiers should carry arms is decided by agreements and one ought to be sensitive about such national security matters.

From Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik to RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, and from Bengal chief minister Mamata to Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut€¦except the Congress, the entire Opposition has shown the maturity to stand united with the government during the conflict.

Andhra CM Jagan Reddy, for instance, made a strong pitch for unity in crisis. In his tweet, he bluntly advised the political class to refrain from pointing fingers and finding fault and instead stand solidly behind our armed forces.

The Congress, though, seems happy scoring brownie points with its English-speaking fan base on social media, and give the Chinese media the day's talking points. The scrutiny and criticism could have been kept for later for parliamentary committees to address, but the Congress has no patience for that.

Such churlishness brings us to much larger issues which existentially threaten the party.

The Congress never had an extremely committed cadre base like the Left or the BJP. But whatever relevance its workers had is being killed by the High Command's over-reliance on the blue-ticks on social media. Twitter warriors are replacing karyakartas on the ground.

The BJP also uses massive and aggressive IT cells. But it has created and is ruthlessly expanding its ground organisation with crores of members. On top of it, the RSS has an ever-expanding base, running over a lakh projects simultaneously.

Then there are the ideologically more hardcore Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram and many such organisations working at the grassroots. Bollywood cheerleaders like Anurag Kashyap, Swara Bhasker, Sonam Ahuja or Anubhav Sinha may fill out the echo chambers of a shrinking ecosystem, but they can't achieve a fraction of what a party's ground-level cadre can.

The Congress party today is just an aloof three-person High Command, 100-odd pravaktas, about 200 social media cell minions, and a geriatric Congress Working Committee. Beyond Amarinder Singh, Ashok Gehlot, Ashok Chavan, Bhupinder Hooda and DK Shivkumar, it is hard to think of a leader who can organise a mass rally of 50,000 or retain his seat on his or her own steam.

Rahul failed in his own backyard Amethi, and had to take the crutch of the Kerala Congress.

The party humiliates committed spokespersons like Sanjay Jha, who defended the indefensible for the last seven years on every platform.

A former Congressman once joked privately, "If Rahul Gandhi can furnish even 20 phone numbers of karyakartas whom he can directly call, I will quit politics."

Bereft of all hope, the Congress seems to be operating on a single-point strategy: wait for Modi to defeat himself.

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