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How Rahul Gandhi is challenging Narendra Modi on Twitter, winning eyeballs

People retweeted Rahul Gandhi more than PM Narendra Modi and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal on Twitter.

india Updated: Oct 18, 2017 15:59 IST
Samarth Bansal
Samarth Bansal
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Twitter,Rahul Gandhi,Narendra Modi
Rahul Gandhi has gained more than one million followers between July and September 2017. (HT file photos)

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is capturing social media traction, evident from the high volume of retweets that the Twitter latecomer is getting for his punchy posts of late.

According to a Hindustan Times analysis of nearly three years’ of tweets by three powerful rivals, people retweeted Gandhi in recent weeks more than Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, the first and second most-followed Indian politicians on the micro-blogging site.

The 47-year-old Gandhi’s upswing points to a shift in his online communication strategy.

“We became more timely in terms of reactions, speaking on issues that were hot topics at the moment, and getting more of our members online,” said Divya Spandana, the Congress’s social media head since this July.

Reports say Gandhi gained more than one million followers between July and September. Recent tweets underscore the renewed social media vigour of a leader once ridiculed and reviled with negative tweets, jokes, memes and videos.

“Modi ji quick; looks like President Trump needs another hug,” posted his Twitter handle, @OfficeOfRG, on October 15. It was retweeted more than 19,700 times.

The tweet carried a screenshot of US President Donald Trump’s post about mending relations with Pakistan, a country he criticised after Modi met and hugged him this summer in Washington.

An analysis of tweets since 2015 till the first fortnight of this October shows how the Twitter battlefield has transformed over the past three years.

The first quarter of 2015 belonged to Kejriwal, riding on his Aam Aadmi Party’s victory in the Delhi assembly elections. He got 1,665 retweets on an average for every tweet he posted, compared to 1,342 for Modi.

In May 2015, Gandhi posted his first tweet and in the next 12 months, Modi raced ahead of Kejriwal. By next summer, the Congress leader upped his game but the Prime Minister was still way ahead.

Gandhi surpassed his rivals this September, averaging 2,784 retweets as against 2,506 for Modi and 1,722 for Kejriwal.

His average retweets spiked to 3,812 till mid-October, approaching Modi’s two best months since 2015. The Prime Minister averaged 4,074 retweets last November, the month he announced scrapping the 500- and 1,000-rupee notes in a shock demonetisation drive, and 4,055 this July when Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar rejoined the BJP-led NDA.

Congress social media head Spandana attributed the success to Gandhi’s tweeting style and efforts of the party’s grassroots workers, who got trained at workshops in the past months.

According to Joyojeet Pal, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, the Congress leader’s clever and witty phrases, combined with an increased use of Hindi, have made his tweets more retweetable.

A higher retweet rate is often associated with the followers’ desire to consciously spread a politician’s message, he said.

The BJP played down Gandhi’s Twitter rise. The party’s IT cell head, Amit Malviya, said the Congress leader’s performance should be compared with that of Union minister Smriti Irani and not the Prime Minister, whose “account has a dignified presence”.

The Aam Aadmi Party doubted if the retweets were real.

Ankit Lal, who leads the AAP’s social media team, alleged tweets of Modi and Gandhi were retweeted through fake profiles and automated bots. The Congress dismissed the allegation.

First Published: Oct 18, 2017 09:00 IST