Rahul's Congress to reach out to young, focus on social media: Ajay Maken

New Delhi, July 3 (IANS) The Congress thinks the political discourse in the country has shifted from coffee shops and parks to social media and hence vice president Rahul Gandhi wants the party to increasingly communicate to the people through platforms favoured by the young like Facebook, Twitter and blogs ahead of the 2014 general election, says newly-appointed communication department chairman Ajay Maken.

According to Maken, the challenge before the 127-year-old Congress party is to understand that the political discourse in the country has shifted "from coffee shops and among morning walkers in neighbourhood parks to social media platforms" like Facebook, Twitter and blogs which are popular among the young.

"We have to use all the tools of communication, be it print, television or digital media to express ourselves," Maken told IANS in an interview. "That is why Rahul Gandhi rechristened the media department as the communication department," he said.

Agreeing he would have to deal with a lot of negative propaganda against the party, Maken said there were enough positives under the top Congress leadership, including party chief Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi himself.

"The need is to arm the party leaders and workers with correct information. We want informed public debates," he said.

As part of that, Maken said, greater synergy between the responses of various Congress leaders on any given issue was being attempted.

"You will see a lot of synergy in the responses of our spokespersons," he said.

Maken's appointment comes against the backdrop of charges of corruption and policy paralysis against the United Progressive Alliance government for the past two years.

Stating there was no "perception management" deficit either in the party and the government, Maken said many of the decisions taken during the UPA 1 and II rule could not be shared with the people.

"This led to a wrong perception of policy paralysis," he said.

The people, he said, will not agree that the Bharatiya Janata Party has a clean slate.

"They will remember that the BJP lost governments in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka due to corruption charges," said Maken while crediting the Congress for bringing in the pro-transparency Right to Information Act.

Maken, who resigned as a cabinet minister to hold the key party post, denied there was any communication gap between the party and the government.

Addressing a party meet November 4, 2012, Sonia Gandhi had urged the ministers to work in tandem with the state units and focus on implementing the party's poll promises in the run up to the 2014 battle.

"The party and the government are inseparable. This is not a challenge," Maken said.

The Congress, he said, believes in developing younger leadership, contrary to perception.

"A younger AICC team, which has former members of the National Students Union of India and the Youth Congress, has been put in place. Many office-bearers have a background in electoral politics," Maken told IANS.

The Congress recently revamped the party organisation, bringing in many younger leaders as secretaries to gear up for the coming electoral challenges, including five assembly polls this year and the big battle of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at amit.a@ians.in)