In the course of the past ten days, the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) has called the Congress Party a “pro Muslim party” and its leader, Rahul Gandhi, a “merchant of hate.” Divya Spandana, the actor-turned politician from Karnataka, who heads social media for the Congress, is often the first line of defense as well as offense for her party.
In a conversation with HuffPost India, Spandana, who is credited for raising the social media of the Congress, talked about how she counters the BJP’s considerable presence on social media, her messaging for the 2019 general election and whether she writes Gandhi’s tweets.
What do you want your messaging to be?
We want to lend our voice to those who are not heard. In Modi’s government, it would be the unemployed youth, it would be women, it would be the Dalits, it would be the minorities, it would farmers, it would be all the other Hindus who do not resonate with their idea of Hinduism. So, it is a huge section of Indians that are left out, and that is how I want my messaging to be.
It my responsibility as the social media head of the Congress Party to maintain a level of discourse. It’s just the way we think, or how we are conditioned, or how we are wired.
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Religious polarization could be the mainstay of the next election.
We are not going to make it a communal election. The BJP wants to make it about it, but we should also be able to set the agenda. Why should not we get dragged into their conversation? Why won’t you answer me on jobs, why won’t you answer me on manufacturing. I don’t want to go into an election based on caste and religion. That is not the India I want.
The thing is that they’re message is obviously more resounding because they have the resources, they have the TV, they have the money to print ads, radio jingles. So, people feel that is the conversation, but it’s not.
Did Rahul Gandhi come up with the tweet himself or did you all brainstorm?
This comes naturally to him. It’s not something he just says but also what he believes. He did it himself.
Do you identify as a liberal?
If speaking one’s mind, if wanting to take everyone along in society, then perhaps, yes, I’m a liberal.
Communal issues are likely to come up more frequently in the run up to 2019. How will the Congress respond?
I think responsibility also comes from the media. We cannot go into the election without their support because it is all about communication right now, through radio, print, TV and social media.
In social media, they (BJP) are way ahead in terms of resources. They have access to a lot of data, they have money, their messages get disseminated faster. Now, how do I counter that?
If Congress needs to set the agenda, set the narrative, we need to cooperation of everyone including the media. We need Facebook to cooperate, we need Whatsapp to cooperate, we need Twitter to cooperate with us and help us spread our message. It should not always be about the money. Otherwise communicating today, to reach out to a lay person, and tell them where the Congress stands, what we believe in, is going to be very hard for 2019.
What I’m saying is that don’t have biases towards the ruling party. Whatever services or tools these platforms have must be made accessible to everyone in a transparent manner.
But what would you say to counter religious polarization? They say that we are for Hindus and Congress saying we are for everyone, they might have more impact.
The BJP does not define Hinduism or get to dictate who is a real Hindu. I don’t want the discourse to be about religion. I need to have the same kind of space to put my message out as the BJP does. For example, if I have a press conference how many television channels will carry it? I want to set the agenda, I want to say that this should not be about religion, it should be about jobs. I am saying it but who is there to hear me out. It’s not that I’m not saying it loudly enough, it’s just that I don’t have enough platforms to communicate
I think you have to pick your battles. It may mean that change is slow, and people will probably outrun you, but not for long. But the vision is not short-term and doing something that is good for the country. It is not just about polarizing people to grab power.
The Congress is accused of practicing soft Hindutva.
You tell me what are we supposed to do? They alienate the Hindus against us. People have to be able to think for themselves, what is a bigger issue, who do you want to listen to. I don’t think the people are ready to see it yet, because today, the way they consume information is through Whatsapp, radio, print and television, and all of this is completely taken up by the BJP because of their resources and money. Even if I want to set the agenda, my voice is lost because it isn’t carried, because I’m not saying anything controversial, because I’m not saying anything to polarize people. It’s not something I’m comfortable doing.
Then why is the temple run in Gujarat, and the Janeu Dhaari.
We are not doing soft Hindutva. If he goes to a mosque, he is pro-Muslim. If he goes to a temple, he is trying to be Hindu. Oh, you are not talking about Kathua. They are constantly going to be saying something. And you hear them because they are more amplified than us.
Every time, they drag us to a conversation about Hindu-Muslim, religion, we should talk about jobs. Don’t get dragged into that conversation. But unfortunately, we sometimes fall into their trap. You can’t go down that path. No matter what you say, you are losing that battle. Just go for jobs, GST, demonetization, and how people have been hit by the failure of this government.
But if that is my strategy, to talk about jobs and the economy, nobody is carrying it. It’s just the way we are today in the age of information and the way it is consumed. It is not masala enough. And they have the money and resources to push their message more. So, we are a bit stuck and there is a huge challenge in front of us.
A lot of people believe you write Rahul Gandhi’s tweets?
He tweets himself. I have nothing to do with it.
How is it running the Congress social media campaign?
I honestly would not have been able to do anything without his (Gandhi) help, I think he believed in me more than I believed in myself because social media was something that I did not know.
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