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Union Home Minister Amit Shah. (ANI)
Union Home Minister Amit Shah. (ANI)

Top politicians rarely tweet about covid now, are back to political games

  • For India’s top politicians on Twitter, the coronavirus had pushed politics to the backseat during the lockdown. But as India unlocked, they are back in the zone

For top Indian politicians, the coronavirus is a remnant of the lockdown and may no longer be relevant. At least that’s what their Twitter activity appears to show. The string of elections and political flashpoints during the “unlock" period is evident in the social media messaging of political leaders: across the spectrum, they are back to focusing on increasing their political capital.

Political feud had taken a backseat between 25 March and 31 May, when India went through four stages of lockdown. Back then, the coronavirus was the focus of about 29% of the tweets and retweets of the 20 politicians tracked by the weekly Mint Political Twitter Dashboard. But this fell to 2.7% between June and August, and further down to 0.6% between September and November, our analysis shows.

Even leading businesspersons have been tweeting more about the virus, according to the first part of this analysis that covered 20 select business leaders from India and abroad.

During the post-lockdown period, the coronavirus was the topic of 15% of the tweets of these 20 individuals, who are tracked by the Mint Business Twitter Dashboard.

For political leaders, politics is back centre stage. The analysis is based on 30,937 tweets and retweets posted by the 20 political leaders between 1 June and 30 November. Around half of these tweets were about four broad areas that lie at the heart of what politicians do: economy, governance, elections, and politics.

But there are subtle differences. Leaders who are in government, be it at the Centre or in states, tweeted more about matters of governance and the economy than those in the Opposition. Most of this involved announcing or iterating policy changes. Opposition MPs led in the share of coronavirus-related tweets (4%), as well as in the share of issues beyond the four broad categories (58%).

In the political firmament, the period between June and November saw campaigning for three elections of note: for the Assembly in Bihar, and for local bodies in Jammu and Kashmir and Hyderabad. In each, the Bharatiya Janata Party, keen to make inroads, threw its weight and top leaders into the contests. For example, Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted about both sets of local elections. There was also a political crisis in Congress-ruled Rajasthan in July.

Other issues that occupied the political discourse during the analysis period were the Indo-China border conflict and its trickle-down effect into economic spheres, the death of high-profile actor Sushant Singh Rajput, the arrival of the first batch of Rafale fighter jets from France, and the ground-breaking ceremony for a temple at the Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya.

On these issues, the five ruling party MPs in the analysis posted far too many tweets than the five Opposition MPs. But this volume was not driven by the top leaders: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for instance, put out only 13 tweets about China. Most came from Smriti Irani and Subramanian Swamy, both extremely prolific on Twitter who like to wade into a host of issues.

Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, the two main leaders across the political divide, remain different in their social media strategies. Modi is far more active, averaging nine tweets per day, against two for Gandhi during the June to November period. Part of the reason is the courtesies that come with being the prime minister. Gandhi was focused more on politics, and his tweets got greater traction—an average of 13,080 retweets versus 4,767 retweets for Modi.

Among the original tweets of individual leaders that got the most traction, many were related to the controversial scheduling of entrance exams for engineering and medical colleges during the pandemic. This held true for tweets of six leaders. Elsewhere, the top tweets of Smriti Irani and Amit Shah were related to the arrest of Republic TV owner-anchor Arnab Goswami, while the most popular tweet of Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh related to the arrival of Rafale jets.

Looking ahead, the Winter Session of Parliament lies postponed. Next up is the Budget Session, in January. Meanwhile, farmer protests have only intensified since the period of our analysis. Five state elections are due in 2021, including in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. With the country appearing to put the coronavirus behind it, expect more political fireworks on Twitter from these 20 leaders in the months to come.

This is the second of a two-part series on the Twitter activity of prominent personalities this year. The first part analysed the tweets by the 20 Indian and global business leaders tracked by the Mint Business Twitter Dashboard. is a database and search engine for public data

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