India's largest opposition party blames national media for its lack of influence — but its new YouTube channel may only be targeting the Hindi belt
- The Indian National Congress launched a new YouTube channel today as a way to voice its opinion today, on April 14.
- The opposition party’s argument is that mainstream news channels are biased and don’t give them enough airtime.
- A new YouTube channel may be too little, too late for Congress to get its bearings on a national level — but that may not be what they’re aiming for anyway.
The Congress’ rationale for the launch of INC TV is that they are not getting enough airtime on mainstream news channels. But the opposition party’s attempt to control the narrative is far from original — and it may just be targeting the Hindi heartland, not the entire country. The three out of the six videos it has shared on the first day are in Hindi.
List of the top ten YouTube channels by political parties in India:
|Channel||Subscribers||Total uploaded video views|
|Narendra Modi||8.6 million||1.25 billion|
|Bharatiya Janata Party||3.6 million||986.9 million|
|PMO India||1.53 million||192.9 million|
|Indian National Congress||1.48 million||383.4 million|
|President of India||1.14 million||166.5 million|
|Aam Aadmi Party||980,000||179 million|
|AITC Official||346,000||96.8 million|
|Shiv Sena||205,000||33.5 million|
|Rashtriya Janata Dal RJD||235,000||15.1 million|
It is true that Congress has been missing from most major news channels
A 2020 Harvard study found that media manipulation is prominent in a democracy like India, both online and offline. The oratory charisma of the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi aside, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has the money — and it's been pumping it into advertising at a time when the media has needed it the most. A factor that many believe influences the media’s editorial decisions.
In May 2019, INC even announced that it will be boycotting TV debates after Rahul Gandhi quit as the leader of Congress. But the party later had a change of heart and its spokespersons returned in front of the camera in April 2020.
Even if the television channels have been largely partisan, in favour of the ruling Narendra Modi administration, India’s digital media has many players — from vloggers to influencers to Twitterati — who aren’t afraid to be critical of the party in power, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
BJP is louder than Congress on national issues, and regional parties have more influence than Congress on local issues
The Congress has no grip over the online narrative either. The grand old party — one credited with leading India’s independence movement — has failed in being a critical voice that is effective.
Even some of the regional leaders — those from Trinamool Congress to the Shiv Sena to Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) — have had more resonance than the Congress at crucial political junctures in the last seven years like the protests against the ban on Jallikattu or in the scandal involving Indian Premier League’s architect Lalit Modi, or the medical entrance exam scandal popularly known as Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh.
Even in the most recent farmer protests in North India, against the BJP government, political activists like Yogendra Yadav were more visible leaders than those from the Congress.
In the current environment that is heavily polarised — between those who support Hindutva, and therefore, the ruling government, and those who don’t — the space for dissenters has become fragmented. So, it is to be seen how effective a new YouTube news channel from Congress may be.
The social media giant that is the BJP
There are few moments in history where the media landscape undergoes a generational change. And those who are able to capitalise on this change tend to have the political lead until the next change.
A lot has been written about how the DMK used cinema, in its early days in India, to fuel a movement for social justice in Tamil Nadu. The impact of that is felt even today in the state where many movie stars see politics as a natural progression in their career.
AdvertisementSo, similar experiments with propaganda are not new to India. From Kairali TV, controlled by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala to OTV in Odisha — known to be close to the Biju Janata Dal, at one point — are only some examples.
|Channel (State)||Owner||Member or affiliated to...|
|News24||Rajeev Shukla||Congress leader|
|Lokmat||Vijay J Dadra||Congress leader|
|Zee Network||Subhash Chandra||Independent member of Parliament nominated by BJP|
|Sun Network||Kalanidhi Maran||Member of Parliament from DMK|
|Asianet News (Kerala), Suvarna News (Kerala)||Rajeev Chandrasekhar||Member of Parliament from BJP|
|Odisha TV||Baijayant Jay Panda||Former Member of Parliament and National Vice President from BJP|
|Jagran||Mahendra Mohan Gupta||Former Member of Parliament from the Samajwadi Party|
|Hindustan Times||Shobhana Bhartia||Former Member of Parliament from Congress|
DMK remained a defiant force by adapting itself for the television era. Sun TV, once Tamil Nadu’s undisputed leader among television networks, kept the party in good stead until the era of social media exploded towards the end of the first decade of this century.
BJP jumped on the social media bandwagon before anyone else and still leads
AdvertisementA senior member of Parliament from the party once candidly admitted, in a private conversation, that DMK missed the social media revolution. It hasn’t been in power in the southern state since 2011.
The same is true for Congress. By the time Rahul Gandhi joined Twitter, in April 2015, Modi had 16 million followers on social media (Facebook and Twitter). BJP’s strategic initiatives via social media played a big part in swinging the 2014 election. And it hasn’t given up the lead since then.
|Handle||Followers on Twitter||Followers on Facebook|
|Narendra Modi||67 million||46.6 million|
|BJP||15.7 million||16 million|
|Rahul Gandhi||17.9 million||3.8 million|
|Congress||7.8 million||5.7 million|
The Congress may have realised its mistake earlier. Rahul Gandhi tried to earn some cred for cuteness on social media posting videos of his dog, Pidi, in 2017. More recently, he tried to garner some attention doing push-ups in front of students in Kerala. But none of it got him the political mileage he needs.
This doesn’t seem like an attempt at national revival
The party may have prospects in some states, thanks largely to local allies or some of its own leaders worth their salt. However, it needs more traction in the Hindi speaking states where the BJP is miles ahead. That may explain why the first three videos on the channel are in Hindi.
Many observers have lamented in the recent past about how the Hindi media is increasingly biased towards BJP — or its allies — which rules key states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh where Hindi is a prevalent language.
Congress supporters can only hope that this move to start a YouTube channel stems the party’s constantly declining political fortune at least in some of these states. In other parts of India, especially in the south, regional parties have a better shot at stalling the BJP juggernaut.
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