When Rahul Gandhi stayed with his resolve to quit the post of party president, sections of the electorate that wish to see an effective Opposition in Parliament welcomed his decision to leave behind a vacuum in which talent from outside the dynasty could emerge. But just days after stepping down, Gandhi again invited the familiar catcalls about his political immaturity by tweeting that he had passed the Twitter landmark of 10 million followers, and that he would celebrate the occasion in Amethi. Imagine the perplexity of the people of the family pocket borough, which he is visiting for the first time after losing it to Smriti Irani. Rahul Gandhi has thanked his followers, which is a sign of his natural decency, but the promise to celebrate suggests that he does not know who he is, or what his role is. Such celebrations and self-congratulations are alright for people like hackers and jungle musicians, not for a politician who speaks to all of India. One, moreover, whose party is currently falling apart in Karnataka and other places.
Besides, are the Twitter numbers ever for real? How many of Rahul Gandhi’s 10 million faithful are bots? How many are citizens of Botswana? How many are just rubberneckers? And how many are trolls who follow him for the sole purpose of making fun of him, just for the lulz? Rahul-baiting is a flourishing industry owing to abundant natural resources, but its labour base should be left out of a reckoning of his Twitter following. The Twitter numbers game is funny business, no more credible than matka odds.
Rahul Gandhi did not exactly take to social media like a fish to water. He had started very tentatively, with the depersonalised handle of @OfficeofRG, which kept him at a safe distance from the very people he was trying to reach out to, while BJP leaders excelled by making direct contact. And it took him a good, long time to outstrip Shashi Tharoor, who has been the most successful communicator in his party. But a disconnect online is not necessarily a deficit. India is still won or lost by politicians who don’t try to conserve their chappal leather. Gaining a 10 million following online in a nation of 1.5 billion is nothing to tweet home about.