On 7 August, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) working president and Telangana's IT Minister K Taraka Rama Rao, popularly known as KTR, tweeted a reply to a journalist, "Once I am done dealing with RW (right-wing) troll army, will greet Anand a happy friendship day and settle for a South Indian filter coffee." KTR was referring to his most recent spat on Twitter, which had attracted the attention of BJP-friendly trolls.
Consulting editor and columnist of Swarajya, Anand Ranganathan, had taunted KTR earlier that day for having tweeted against Nupur Sharma, a former BJP spokesperson who was booked for allegedly making derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammed. Calling Sharma a bigot, KTR had written, "What Nupur Sharma did had brought shame on this great Nation & made us look bad to the world."
The row with Ranganathan lasted a whole day. The episode brought to light the changing social media strategy of the TRS, a party founded on regional sentiments in 2001 by Telangana's current Chief Minister and KTR's father K Chandrashekar Rao.
In a way, the TRS seems to be building a sustained online confrontational front against the BJP's IT cell on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp, and the tech-savvy KTR appears to be the face of it.
The Quint pored over the minister's tweets and spoke to social media incharges of the TRS to piece together how and why the pink party is taking on the BJP, sometimes overwhelmingly. Here's a peek into the TRS' Twitter-verse, which could have a bearing on the party's fortunes in the Legislative Assembly elections expected to be held in 2023.
From #AskKTR to Being Activist-Friendly
From the very start, as Telangana's IT Minister, KTR, has built an accessible online persona, which was often in stark contrast with that of the 'inaccessible' CM K Chandrashekar Rao, who was hard to get hold of during his first term in office from 2014 to 2019.
KTR started an online trend where Twitter users could ask him questions, hashtagged #AskKTR. This run has been successful for years, with the hashtag making it to top trends on several occasions. The minister has also been responding almost daily to tweets that request medical assistance.
This may not seem extraordinary given the social media efforts of other political parties, including the countrywide reach of the Congress and BJP. However, the minister's Twitter following has almost tripled over the last four years – from 1.2 million followers in 2018 to 3.5 million in August 2022 – making him one of the most popular political leaders online.
"It's a great feeling – several people have told us – to receive a tweet from him. From party workers to regular people who are unconnected with politics, many feel elated when the minister personally tags them on Twitter," a social media campaigner of the TRS, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Quint. Witty and suave, KTR has been close to youth on Twitter. Also, he has been responsive to political activists in Telangana.
"I may not agree with him always, but we need him. Given the current situation in the country, we need him on our side," a Hyderabad-based activist who does not support the TRS told The Quint.
Several activists have been leaning towards KTR because his online presence translates to "the top guy who gets things done."
This affable online persona of KTR is what the TRS' social media team has been banking on to pick a neat fight with the BJP. Interestingly, the strategy has worked on several occasions, though the Telangana BJP claims otherwise.
From #JumlaKingModi to #ModiMustAnswer
"When the BJP's national executive meeting (July 2022) was going on in Hyderabad, what trended online was TRS' social media campaign which used the hashtag #ByeByeModi and the more Telugu-specific #SaaluModiSampakkuModi (Enough, Modi…Don’t Kill Us, Modi)," Jagan Patimeedi, a social media convener of TRS told The Quint.
In the past few months, TRS' social media campaigners have actively taken on the BJP by adopting an aggressive social media approach that is mostly in line with Chief Minister KCR's acerbic statements against the saffron party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
KTR has consistently trained his guns on PM Narendra Modi, using the hashtag #JumlaKing on several occasions. Predictably, the BJP's IT Cell has attacked the TRS from across the country.
"It is tough because when we tweet, we are up against the BJP IT Cells of all the states. They all descend on us in a jiffy. Nevertheless, we have made a mark," a social media campaigner of the TRS said.
Meanwhile, a BJP IT cell campaigner said, "It is not just the TRS or KTR, we look at all the people who post against the central government and issue rebuttals."
TRS has often extended its social media campaigns to the ground as well.
In August, TRS sent a social media team to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's constituency, Varanasi. A series of tweets about the lack of amenities in Varanasi followed this move.
In July, during BJP's national executive meet, TRS' campaign hoardings placed across Hyderabad read, "Modi Must Answer," TRS' questions on the central government's "failures." In fact, because some of these posters used images from the popular TV series Money Heist to question Modi, it is observed that TRS campaigns have also become trendy, with a hint of sarcasm.
While this strategy has worked out for the TRS, the BJP's communal campaigns do stump the party.
"We can't talk about that. It's tough to strategically counter communal politics online," a social media campaigner told The Quint, admitting that the TRS sometimes ends up on the back foot. But the Twitter exchange over Nupur Sharma that KTR sparked in August did reveal TRS' working strategy to deal with communally charged social media interactions.
TRS' Changed Politics & 'No Hesitation' Policy
In the recent past, Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao has on several occasions opposed the BJP's "politics of hatred." There is an "undeclared emergency" in India, he said in June 2022, adding, "Indira Gandhi was at least bold enough to declare an Emergency. Today in India, we have an undeclared Emergency." The CM went on to call Narendra Modi the "weakest PM India has seen."
This comes at a time when several top leaders of other parties in the Opposition, including Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin and CPI(M) leader and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, have been interacting with the PM amicably.
While Stalin faced criticism in July for sharing a stage with Modi during the 2022 World Chess Olympiad held in Chennai, CM Vijayan, in March 2022, met the PM regarding the state's controversial Silverline rail project. After his meeting with the PM, Vijayan calculatedly said that Modi "listened to us with utmost interest" and "his response was favourable and healthy."
It is pertinent to note that both Stalin and Vijayan have opposed the BJP for a longer duration, even when the TRS remained friendly with the saffron party during CM KCR's first term in office. However, with the BJP surging in Telangana – both in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, winning four seats, and the 2020 GHMC polls, winning 48 seats – the TRS' politics has drastically changed.
In fact, the CM refused to meet the PM on three separate occasions when the latter visited Hyderabad. To top that, KCR boycotted the NITI Aayog meeting held in August, accusing the Centre of stifling the states' interests.
Also, the TRS has been maintaining close ties with AIMIM, despite the BJP viciously targeting the party for its link with Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi.
In other words, the TRS leadership has taken on the BJP without showing any signs of hesitation and its social media wing has followed this lead.
Talking Development When Matters Turn Communal
The BJP has been calling the TRS a "dynasty party" that's in the grips of the Kalvakuntla family. However, the pink party does not seem to be defensive about this anymore. "Anand, Dynasty is any day better than Nasty Bigotry," KTR wrote in his reply to Anand Ranganathan, addressing the subject that several regional political parties have been shying away from.
Also, KTR's tweets about 'developmental nationalism' did save the TRS to an extent. "We brought the conversation back to development and what really matters to the country and its people. We did not give in to their narrative," a TRS campaigner said.
KTR tweeted, "Let me remind you that we live in a nation where the President of India's village got electrified a month ago."
The TRS has consistently tried to keep its focus on the Union government's shortfalls. But this task has been difficult. "The BJP's IT Cell is massive and it is difficult to push the pertinent points that we want to raise. But we are dealing with it," a TRS social media campaigner said.
What really has worked for TRS is the language that KTR has adopted to oppose the BJP. Different from political talk, the TRS' campaigns echo a vocabulary used by activists across the country. "Welcome to the WhatsApp University for its executive council meeting to the beautiful city of Hyderabad. To all the Jumla Jeevis…" KTR tweeted, addressing the BJP national leadership.
When the BJP insisted that Hyderabad could be renamed Bhagyanagar, KTR wrote, "Why don't you change Ahmedabad's name to Adanibad first?"
In fact, the pinned tweet on KTR's Twitter profile is a line that could have been tweeted by several individual handles, which have consistently been opposing the BJP. It reads, "To all those people who cringe & crib each time I post some facts about NDA govt and PM. Please unfollow me immediately as I will continue to highlight & expose their bigotry & false propaganda, come what may."
The TRS' social media incharge Jagan Patimeedi said, "We are hopeful that our social media campaigns will convince people that the BJP is not good for Telangana."