The Congress party would require Rs 100 crore during the next 18 months - till the Lok Sabha elections - to counter the main opposition BJP in the field of social media, telecom minister Kapil Sibal said at the session on emerging political challenges at the party's Chintan Shivir at Jaipur on Saturday.
The BJP, he said, had a hundred people tweeting against the Congress in the morning. By afternoon, the tweets would become news on TV channels and by the next day, they became headlines in the print media.
Sibal made a strong case for a pro-active approach to the social media. He pointed out that the BJP made extensive use of the social media to reach out to the middle class. He referred to the anti-government blitz on social networking sites following the brutal bus rape case and earlier during the Anna Hazare-led agitation for a Jan Lokpal Bill, which snowballed into street protests.
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With the increasing penetration of the internet across social classes, the Congress should not be squeezed out of that space, Sibal said. He pointed out that elections in nine states and the Lok Sabha polls were imminent, so the party would have to undertake a strong counter-offensive on a war footing.
Digvijay Singh, who heads the committee on communications strategy, said the party was concerned about the march the BJP had stolen in terms of the social media. "Narendra Modi has a sanchar kendra near Ahmedabad for tracking the social media," he said, adding that a report on a counter-strategy would be submitted to Rahul Gandhi in the next ten days.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi spent almost two hours at the session on emerging political challenges at the Congress chintan shivir in Jaipur, in the course which the three Cs were discussed: communalism, corruption and coalition. She maintained a studious silence throughout.
Science and technology minister S Jaipal Reddy made two significant points. He said the Congress would have to undertake an exercise in social engineering in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in order to establish itself in those states. He said that OBCs should be actively wooed. He also expressed the view that the Congress should not be on the defensive on the corruption issue. It should not appear in the public mind as being the source of corruption but should take the issue head on. Among others who spoke was information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari.
In the session on socio-economic issues, delegates strongly felt that the government's repeated doses of economic reforms should be tempered with welfare measures before going to polls. Congress leader Vayalar Ravi said there was no need to be wary of UPA II being seen as a pro-subsidy regime, because the US and OECD countries too disbursed heavy subsidies to farmers.
On Friday, the first day of the three-day conclave, the Congress president attended the session on the party organization and on women's empowerment, spending 45 minutes at each venue.