Paul Lachine

Tweets Democratic

Only a small minority of India’s 753 million voters use social media, with Twitter, for example, providing little help in political mobilization. But social media in India do help to set the agenda of public debate, and their significance for the country's politics is set to rise sharply as mobile broadband takes off.

NEW DELHI – On July 4, Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat and putative prime ministerial candidate of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), became the most-followed Indian politician on Twitter, with more than 1.8 million followers. (Full disclosure: the long-time leader whom he eclipsed was me.) The occasion was celebrated by BJP supporters across the Internet, and triggered a spate of assessments of social media’s growing impact on Indian politics.

Four years ago, when I first went on Twitter, many Indian politicians sneered at the use of social media. It seemed like every remark of mine was taken out of context in the press and blown up into a political controversy. As the BJP’s president at the time, Venkaiah Naidu, presciently warned me, “Too much tweeting can lead to quitting.”

As recently as last September, India’s Economic Times reported that, faced with such risks, most young Indian politicians were not active on any social-networking site. Those with active accounts posted only sporadic – and uninteresting – updates.

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