Political pundits everywhere are exhaling: Priyanka Gandhi has made her Twitter debut, over a month after she created her account.
Gandhi, a newly minted general secretary of India’s primary opposition party, the Congress—and the sister of its president, Rahul Gandhi—posted her inaugural tweets soon after delivering her first speech for the outfit.
Her tweets, which referenced Mahatma Gandhi, were likely a nod to the fact that she was speaking in Gujarat, the home state of the iconic figure of Indian independence.
The tweets were a safe choice, likely vetted by digital communications staff, as the microblogging platform has far-reaching impact among the country’s tech-savvy young voters.
Politicians these days are expected to weigh their words carefully on Twitter, since their tweets are freely quoted by news outlets and can often be controversial news on their own.
In this context, here’s a look at the debut tweets of some prominent Indian politicians, many of which were sent out long before ideas about what a politician’s tweet should look like were fully established.
India’s prime minister was one of the country’s first politicians to tweet, over a decade ago. He, like many other politicians, initially used Twitter to communicate his itinerary with the public.
His first tweet, posted as chief minister of Gujarat, says he will be present at a yatra—a journey.
Congress’ current president was an extremely late entrant to Twitter, creating his account in April 2015, six years after Modi did, and a year after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) trounced the Congress in a blowout general election.
Although now his Twitter success often rides on his sarcasm towards Modi, Rahul Gandhi’s debut, too, indicated his presence at a yatra. His first tweet, as some users immediately noticed, made the slightly odd choice to refer to himself in the third person. This practice is mostly avoided on Twitter, as politicians like to give the impression that they are communicating directly with constituents.
The current head of the Aam Aadmi Party, which is in power in Delhi, used his first tweet to drive home the point about direct communication.
Many politicians who arrived early on Twitter started off, like Modi did, with updates about their current locations. Now a minister under Modi, Smriti Irani initially used this strategy as well.
But soon she took a more confrontational approach, posting off-the-cuff, critical remarks, including about national carrier Air India and left-wing writer Arundhati Roy.
The BJP’s current president used his inaugural tweet, posted in the months-long run-up to India’s 2014 election, to respond to criticism he and Modi were receiving. His tweet linked to a television interview in which he argued that the critics pointing to encounter killings in Gujarat were simply politically motivated.
India’s defence minister made her Twitter debut in September 2009, when she was a BJP spokesperson. Her inaugural post may even qualify as a “subtweet”—a furtive form of criticism that doesn’t clearly reference what it’s criticising—because it is unclear what “khap panchayat” she is referring to that triggered “mahila shakti” (woman power).
India’s current minister of finance and corporate affairs had a lively Twitter debut, also posted in the months leading up to the previous general election. After a “throat-clearing” tweet, he dived right into the prevailing tension between India and Pakistan.
Some leading politicians took far more time to get the hang of the platform. While Gadkari’s initial tweets were posted in December 2009, saying he would update users “shortly,” that didn’t happen until over four years later, with a rather non-climactic photo of the historic religious figure Swami Vivekananda.
This Tamil film star, who entered politics in late 2017, had posted his first tweet a few years earlier, to thank his fans and god.
His first tweet as a politician was a simple reply to film star Amitabh Bachchan, who had congratulated him upon entering politics. Interacting with tweets of highly influential accounts is a strategy other politicians, including Modi, have used to build followers.
The BJP leader and current chief minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh is one of the only prominent Indian politicians whose first tweet was not in English. He chose a quote by Swami Vivekananda, in Hindi.
This translates to: “When a man becomes ashamed of his past and ancestors, he is finished.”
Bihar’s current chief minister also referenced history in his first tweet, which he posted on the 40th anniversary of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency rule.
N Chandrababu Naidu
Some kept it simple. Andhra Pradesh’s current chief minister posted his first tweet about his longstanding love for technology.
It’s not clear whether Indian politicians being on Twitter has led to more “transparency and accountability in governance,” as Naidu had said. But as the country approaches its next general election, politicians’ remarks on Twitter and other social media platforms are sure to draw closer scrutiny.
Read Quartz’s coverage of the 2019 Indian general election here.