How India's Narendra Modi led Twitter poll race

By Vikas Pandey
BBC Monitoring

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionFrom left to right, Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal are leading their respective parties' campaign in the 2014 general elections

So who led the Twitter battle in the just-ended marathon Indian elections?

There are an estimated 33 million Twitter accounts in the country. Analysts say these numbers are small when compared with India's 814 million eligible voters, but since every vote counts in these closely-fought elections, all three parties have tried hard to reach out to those on the internet.

Posts from the personal accounts of the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and the AAP's energetic leader Arvind Kejriwal have attracted a lot of attention on Twitter, while the Congress has used its official handle to voice party vice-president Rahul Gandhi's views.

An analysis of the official Twitter accounts of Mr Modi, Mr Kejriwal and the Congress party between 23 March and 23 April shows the BJP leader led the race for re-tweets and mentions.

Mr Modi was ahead of Mr Kejriwal and the Congress party, with users re-tweeting his posts 283,323 times and mentioning his Twitter handle as many as 818,781 times in their tweets.

image copyrightTwitter

His followers maintained a constant level of interest in what he had to say throughout this period - beginning with the launch of his nationwide campaign on 26 March - with massive spikes on big news days.

The BJP leader addressed the first of his 185 planned Bharat Vijay (India Wins) rallies in Delhi and severely criticised Mr Kejriwal on his home turf.

His "AK-49" comment about Mr Kejriwal - a reference to the former Delhi chief minister's 49-day stint in power - was received with enthusiasm by his online supporters.

His comments set Twitter abuzz with political discussions, with his account receiving a total of 65,000 replies, re-tweets and mentions on a single day.

Some analysts credit Mr Modi's virtual support to a well-organised social media campaign and not simply to his skills.

"Mr Modi is way ahead of Mr Kejriwal and Mr Gandhi in audience engagement... This is thanks to the BJP's professionally managed campaign and the enormous resources it has put in," says prominent technology writer Prasanto K Roy.

Mr Roy explains that the BJP's social media structure appears to be well planned.

"The innermost circle includes those officially handling its social media outreach. The middle circle includes others who have the BJP handles. The outer circle, over whom the BJP claims to have little control, are a huge, fuzzy base of supporters.

"This means that if you tweet anything positive about Mr Modi, it will get re-tweets instantly. But if your tweet is critical, there will be a flood of trolls attacking you," Mr Roy adds.

Mr Modi has also received the occasional backlash from his supporters who have otherwise successfully drowned out any criticism of him.

On 23 March, many of his supporters turned against the BJP after the induction of Pramod Muthalik, a controversial right-wing politician.

Mr Muthalik, who heads the right-wing Sri Ram Sene, captured headlines in 2009 after he justified his group's violent attack on girls in a bar in the southern city of Mangalore.

The BJP withdrew his membership within a day after seeing a severe backlash on Twitter and in the media.

Comparatively, the AAP's social media campaign does not seem to have had as much impact, but its leader Arvind Kejriwal has drawn a noticeable response.

Mr Kejriwal's tweets were re-tweeted 89,492 times - less than half of the traffic Mr Modi received in the same period.

image copyrightTwitter
image captionIn this tweet Arvind Kejriwal asked: "Is it becoming of someone who wants to be PM to use this sort of language?"

However, he received significant attention - a total of 80,000 replies, re-tweets and mentions - when he was slapped by an auto-rickshaw driver in public on 8 April.

The event sparked a wave of sympathy for him but also drew criticism from the BJP's supporters who alleged that the leader "staged" the incident to gain support.

Mr Kejriwal also enjoyed a slight lead in the number of replies with 69,823 responses as against Mr Modi's 68,298 in the same period.

The AAP leader often used Twitter in the war of words with his rivals. On 26 March, he sent a tweet responding to Mr Modi calling him "AK-49".

As a result, he received close to 100,000 responses in the form of re-tweets, replies and mentions on a single day.

Mr Roy agrees that despite the AAP's inability to match up to the BJP's social media performance, they have still gained some ground among Indians active on social media.

"The AAP relies on its large volunteer base, in the absence of the enormous resources of the BJP. The AAP's engagement numbers are a good reflection of its real support," he says.

Mr Gandhi, who is fighting an anti-incumbency wave, has had a rather flaccid social media presence through his party's official Twitter account. His portrayal as a youth leader in campaigns has left little impact in the online world.

image copyrightTwitter

"The Congress had the head-start in social media with individuals such as former minister Shashi Tharoor with over 2 million followers, all built up personally. But the party frittered it away. Even today, Rahul and Sonia Gandhi do not use Twitter," Mr Roy says.

The Congress party's official account registered a total of 67,203 re-tweets over the period analysed, which is way behind the figures for Mr Modi and Mr Kejriwal.

Replies to the party's tweets were limited to a meagre 14,770 and the overall mention of the Congress party's account stood at 127,772.

Additional reporting by Mukesh Adhikary