In an interesting development, Rahul Gandhi, the erstwhile President of Congress party and the ‘crowned prince’ of Indian politics has unfollowed 69 Twitter accounts on a single day. While earlier, he was following 315 people, he now follows only 246 people.
An archive version of the Twitter profile taken on 11th November 2019 shows that Rahul Gandhi was following 315 people on Twitter.
However, the current Twitter account of Rahul Gandhi follows only 246 accounts.
The Archive version of Rahul Gandhi Twitter account taken on 11th November 2019 and the current Twitter account of Rahul Gandhi prove that Rahul Gandhi unfollowed 69 people in the past couple of weeks.
To understand when this development may have taken place from 11th November to now, we tried to search the website socialblade.com. Website socialblade.com tracks the number of followers of an account and the number of accounts being followed by a person. It also tracks the quality of social media accounts across platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook etc.
When Rahul Gandhi’s account is searched on socialblade.com, one can see that Rahul Gandhi unfollowed 69 accounts on 21st November 2019.
There can be several reasons for this drop in the number of people who Rahul Gandhi followed. While it is difficult to ascertain which were the exact accounts that were unfollowed by Rahul Gandhi, we can speculate why this drop may have happened.
Change in Congress IT Cell head
In May 2017, the actress turned politician Divya Spandana had been recruited as the Congress IT cell head by then-president of Congress Rahul Gandhi. With several crass comments and a vicious social media campaign that was unleashed by Divya, she had unceremoniously quit Twitter and deleted her account. This had come after she was named in the Chirag Patnaik sexual harassment case in which a former party worker had accused the right-hand man of social media chief Divya Spandana of molestation at the workplace. She had also alleged that Spandana had not taken any action, but instead had “mentally harassed” her.
Replacing Divya Spandana, Congress had then recruited Rohan Gupta as the IT Cell head of Congress. The appointment had come in the midst of election campaigning for Haryana and Maharashtra. Gupta, a native from Gujarat had played a “key role” in Congress social media campaign in 2017 Gujarat assembly polls.
Interestingly, Rohan Gupta too does not have a clean history. Rohan Gupta had shared a survey of the polling done in the first phase of Gujarat, which showed Congress winning 65 seats. The survey was fake and he was later booked in this case as well. Essentially, a website had published a fake survey of Gujarat elections. This survey was shared by Rohan Gupta, who was then the National Media Coordinator AICC, Chairman GPCC IT Cell. The site was registered with an email ID which is also used to register the official Gujarat Congress site and was also used to register the site of a business concern of the same Rohan Gupta. Not only is the survey fake and created by Congress stooges itself, but there may also be questions over its legality as well. As per the EC’s orders, no exit polls could have been conducted or published during the period 8.00 am on 09-11-2017 to 5.30 pm on 14-12-2017.
Aside from the sketchy past of Rohan Gupta, one has to wonder if the change in guard in the Congress IT Cell led to 69 accounts being unfollowed simultaneously. It is entirely possible that certain accounts which were followed by Rahul Gandhi were a product of Divya Spandana and her alliances with those accounts in the capacity of IT Cell head. With the change of guard and Rohan Gupta taking over, it could be possible that those accounts were unfollowed by Rohan Gupta.
The JNU fracas
It was revealed earlier, that an individual called Sandeep Singh was Rahul Gandhi’s political advisor and was instrumental in writing his speeches. Sandeep Singh is a detractor turned Congress admirer. He had once shown black flags in a demonstration against erstwhile PM Dr Manmohan Singh and is now a political advisor to Rahul Gandhi and also writes his speeches. The former JNU student, Singh has also been travelling with Priyanka Gandhi ever since she was appointed as Congress general secretary in Uttar Pradesh. As JNU Students Union President, he was associated with AISA (All India Students Association), the student’s wing of the far-left Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). As per reports, he was also associated with the Anna Hazare movement for Lokpal. Eventually, he started writing speeches for Rahul Gandhi.
Given that the JNU protests was at its peak somewhere around 21st November, it is also possible that Rahul Gandhi’s political advisor Sandeep Singh, who is a communist, decided for Rahul Gandhi that some accounts that might not be toeing the communist line of thought as far as the JNU fracas is concerned, or even generally, must be unfollowed. While this cannot be confirmed since it is difficult to zero in on which accounts were unfollowed specifically, it is a strong possibility that this could explain some of the accounts which were unfollowed if not all.
Unfollows based on politics?
Congress is going through massive internal and external turmoil. While in Maharashtra, Congress and NCP have joined hands with Shiv Sena, in Madhya Pradesh, there is a potential rebellion brewing. During the Maharashtra fiasco as well, it was reported that while Rahul Gandhi was not in favour of allying with Shiv Sena, the Sonia Gandhi camp decided that they would go ahead with the alliance. One of the reasons that could explain the drop in follower account is Rahul Gandhi decided to unfollow certain individuals owing to this political turmoil.
It is interesting to note here that Rahul Gandhi is yet to follow Uddhav Thackeray, who is now the Chief Minister of Maharashtra after forming an alliance with Congress and NCP.
In fact, Rahul Gandhi doesn’t even follow Aditya Thackeray yet.
Bot accounts suspended?
One of the most plausible explanations of Rahul Gandhi’s following count reducing is that he may have been following some Bot accounts or fake accounts that were suspended by Twitter.
In October 2017, ANI Digital had published an article that pointed towards ‘bots’ that have been re-tweeting the rather politically casual tweets of Rahul Gandhi. These bots also appear to be of Russian, Kazhak and Indonesian origin.
Not too long ago, news surfaced that Rahul Gandhi might be taking a leaf out of Trump’s book and was in talks with Cambridge Analytica, which had earlier helped Donald Trump win elections through a targeted communication campaign. Trump had stirred up a storm in the USA when he had reportedly quoted and thanked a Russian Bot who was positioned as a “Trump Fan”. Many had wondered at the time, given how prone Mr Gandhi is to committing faux pass if the Congress IT Cell runs the risk of having to deal with a similar situation sometime in the future. Not surprisingly, Cambridge Analytica was a questionable company that also frequently used Russian bots. In fact, the Congress party’s poster on Cambridge Analytic’s head’s wall had also raised questions of whether Congress has taken the help of this dubious organisation.
Since then, the talk of Cambridge Analytics has calmed down, however, given the history of Congress and CA and also the chatter about Rahul Gandhi being retweeted by Bots, it is entirely possible that some of these bots and fake accounts were also being followed by Rahul Gandhi and they have now been suspended by Twitter.
Whatever the reasons, it would bode well for the Congress party to explain the sudden change in Rahul Gandhi Twitter strategy, considering Rahul Gandhi’s ‘resurgence’ in politics is mainly limited to the social media website and not on the ground.