Congress finally recognizes the power of social media. To spend Rs 100 crores?

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

The Congress party is reported to have planned a spend of Rs 100 crore in the next 18 months to fight the Bharatiya Janata Party, its principal opposition in the coming elections on Social Media sites like Twitter and Facebook!

According to reports, telecom minister Kapil Sibal said that the BJP has nearly 100 people on social media tweeting against Congress. Sibal is batting for a “pro-active” social media strategy to counter BJP and also to reach out to the middle class.

The party is said to be readying a counter strategy to submit to Rahul Gandhi, the newly appointed vice president of the party.

The Congress party, like many things, got social media totally wrong. While the BJP built up a strong social media presence, the ruling congress party, widely perceived as wanting to control the Internet, has been at the wrong end many times.

Recently, Hacker group Anonymous broke into the website of India’s minister of Information and Technology Kapil Sibal.  They replaced his site with images that portrayed him as someone who considers freedom harmful to the growth of the country. Sibal was earlier fiercely criticized for his attempts to censor the web.

BJP leaders like Narendra Modi have been very active on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Google +. Read: 5 ways NaMo is using Technology to change election campaigning in India. The BJP recognized the power of social media early and has been running concerted campaigns through an army of volunteers who help shape public opinion as desired by the party.

Though late to the party, its as if the Congress suddenly realised the power of social media and decided to right the wrong. Earlier this month, we wrote about how the party wants its key members to submit their social media credentials along with their usual bio data. The Congress held a conference to chalk out a social media policy a few months ago after a lot many within its ranks, especially from the younger brigade, pushed hard for it internally, we learned. The fact that the mainstream media has started picking cues up from social media may also have played on the minds of media planners.

The 100 cr figure is questionable, according to sources. Its possible that this is the budget for the entire IT strategy, but its likely not the spend on the social media budget alone.

Lately, Indian politicians have begun taking cues from their western peers and have started using social networks to reach out to people. As we’d written before, one of the first to join Twitter from the political clan was Shashi Tharoor, who returned to India to chase a career in politics after numerous assignments in foreign countries as a United Nations official.

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