Welcome Home Wing Commander Abhinandan! The nation is proud of your exemplary courage. Our armed forces are an inspiration for 130 crore Indians. Vande Mataram!"

After Pakistan released the captured pilot on 1 March, this tweet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was retweeted 65,913 times.

In the 10-week period to 28 April, this tweet was retweeted more than any other tweet put out by India’s 15 most-followed political leaders on Twitter from various camps, all of whom are currently engaged in a pitched battle for space, attention and votes.

If Modi invoking nationalism or pushing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) election campaign or promoting himself has resonated the most among his 47 million followers on Twitter, for Rahul Gandhi, it has been berating and critiquing the government. As the electoral battle for India’s Parliament enters its home stretch, such different messaging by political leaders on Twitter is evident in tweets that have found the most traction.

In order to arrive at a quantitative measure of this, we drew from the Mint Twitter Dashboard, which gives a snapshot of the Twitter activity of 20 leaders on a weekly basis. The data used for this piece is for the 10-week period from 17 February to 27 April. For each leader, for each week, we compiled their five tweets that were retweeted the most, and five that were retweeted the least.

That is 100 tweets per leader over this 10-week period. Next, we classified these collated tweets under seven themes, including party campaign, self-promotion, nationalism and opposition criticism.

Which of their tweets get picked up the most depends a lot on the leader’s position on the national political spectrum. But there are also nuances. For example, for each of the four ruling party members of Parliament (MPs), tweets related to their party campaign and nationalism find more traction among their followers than tweets on other themes.

In the case of Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, self-promoting tweets form 20% and 18% of their top retweeted tweets respectively, which is entirely absent for home minister Rajnath Singh. For finance minister Arun Jaitley, who frequently writes blogs, 52% of his top retweeted tweets related to criticism of the opposition.

For the four members of opposition, tweets that are critical of the BJP, followed by tweets on nationalism, resonate the most among their followers.

For example, 48% of Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s most retweeted tweets were those critiquing the BJP. However, his most retweeted tweet (24,035 times) did not have his usual tone of criticism. Posted on 26 February, post-Balakot air strikes, it said, “I salute the pilots of the IAF."

Rahul Gandhi and fellow-Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia’s words on their party campaign also got picked up. In this set, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor is an exception—his tweets that were picked up the most cover a broad spectrum of topics such as policy, the arts and world affairs.

Further down the political spectrum, Mamata Banerjee, leader of Trinamool Congress and West Bengal chief minister (CM), struck a chord with cricket.

Each time the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) won a match in the Indian Premier League, she sent out her congratulations, which her followers picked up more than her other tweets. But as luck would have it, after starting 4-1, KKR slipped into a six-game losing funk over a two-week period.

But even among the most popular tweets, there’s a world of difference between the retweet count of Banerjee and that of Modi or Gandhi. While Modi’s top 5 tweets every week had an average retweet count of 19,054, Gandhi came in second at about 12,655. Shah was third, followed by Jaitley. Among state leaders, Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath came first (2,784 retweets), followed by Samajwaji Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal.

However, one area where Rahul Gandhi leads in is the traction of his tweets with the fewest retweets: 6,700 retweets against 2,185 for Modi. This is partly on account of Rahul Gandhi being less active on Twitter than Narendra Modi. In terms of tweets that don’t get picked up, there’s a difference between those in government and those in the opposition.

For leaders in power, the theme generating the most retweets was also giving them the fewest retweets. In other words, some tweets from the theme were doing very well and some very poorly.

For example, among Modi’s tweets that received the fewest retweets, 52% were about self-promotion, a theme that also generated most retweets for him.

Interestingly, when Modi tweeted his videos lauding his achievements at public rallies, they received good traction. But his tweets of links to interviews, which took a user to a new webpage, did not gain similar traction.

For opposition leaders, the themes that did not get picked up were different from those that did. For Gandhi, his tweets on festival greetings found the least traction.

Vaidik Dalal works at howindialives.com, a database and search engine for public data.

Close