Rajdeep Sardesai explains how marketing professionals run Narendra Modi’s and BJP’s social media


PHOTO/Adnan Abidi/Reuters

An excerpt from Sardesai’s ‘2019: How Modi Won India’.

“No leader probably anywhere in the world is as obsessed with social media as Modi is, he even gets a detailed list of which social influencer has tweeted what about him every evening,” claims a former government official.

Every prime-ministerial tweet is vetted by more than one individual before being officially “cleared”, each tweet is aimed at shoring up Modi’s stature as the country’s tallest leader. As Gujarat chief minister, he would often tweet angrily against the Manmohan Singh government: for example, when the rupee was falling in 2013, he tweeted, “UPA government and the Rupee seem to be in a competition with each other on who will tumble down more.”

But once he was prime minister, the tweets revolved almost entirely around his achievements or the rituals of high office, like birthday greetings to his political rivals. “We don’t do anything off the cuff on Twitter or Facebook like a Donald Trump might, each tweet is carefully planned,” claims a Team Modi member.

By April 2019, on the eve of the general elections, Modi was by some distance the most popular leader on Facebook, with over 43.5 million “likes” on his personal page and 13.7 million on his official page. On Twitter, he had over 45 million followers, making him the second most followed leader in the world, next only to Donald Trump.

He has over 100 playlist videos on YouTube, and a LinkedIn account. As of October 2019, Modi has more than 30 million followers on Instagram, the preferred platform for millennials. “Modi has been at the forefront of the intersection of politics and technology like no other Indian leader before or since,” says Professor Joyojeet Pal, an expert in the relationship between social media and politics.

And it isn’t just Modi. Every senior BJP leader and member of his cabinet is expected to have an “engaged” social media presence, carefully monitored by the PMO. Most cabinet ministers have their own social media teams in their offices and their personal assistants stay in constant touch with each other through WhatsApp groups, sharing tweets and videos to be uploaded.

“We have a very well-organised system where any tweet from the prime minister is immediately liked and retweeted, any video he puts out is immediately shared,” claims a Union minister.

This systems-driven approach was tested on 17 March 2019, just weeks ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, when the prime minister changed his personal Twitter username to “Chowkidar Narendra Modi” a day after launching the #MainBhiChowkidar campaign on the service.

It was a calculated response to Rahul Gandhi’s “Chowkidar chor hai” jibe that the Congress was convinced was resonating with the voter. “Your chowkidar is standing firm and serving the nation. But I am not alone. Everyone who is fighting corruption, dirt, social evils is a chowkidar. Everyone working hard for the progress of India is a chowkidar. Today, every Indian is saying: #MainBhiChowkidar,” tweeted Modi.

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