Modi uses sarcastic tweets to rebrand his political style: University of Michigan study

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In many of his tweets, Modi attacks the Congress party, which is the main opposition as corrupt and makes fun of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi calling him ‘Rahul Baba’ or ‘Shahzada (prince)’.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Courtesy of YouTube)

With more than 35 million followers on Twitter and 43 million likes on Facebook, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of the most followed world leaders on social media. A recent study conducted by University of Michigan (UM) School of Information has found that Modi’s use of sarcasm on Twitter has helped him rebrand his political image.

The study conducted by a team of researchers led by assistant professor Joyojeet Pal demonstrates how the Indian prime minister used political irony, enacted through sarcasm and wordplay, to refashion his political style and practice into a more broadly appealing populist ethic.

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The study published in the International Journal of Communication this week shows that the Prime Minister tweets under nine broad themes: Cricket, Rahul Gandhi (opposition leader), entertainment, sarcasm, corruption, development, foreign affairs, Hinduism, and science and technology.

The tweets were concentrated around the election and campaigning cycles attacking the Congress party and its leader Rahul Gandhi.

In many of his tweets, Modi attacks the Congress party, which is the main opposition as corrupt and makes fun of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi calling him ‘Rahul Baba’ or ‘Shahzada (prince)’.

The team analyzed about 9000 tweets over a six-year period and deconstructed confrontational Twitter messages laced with innuendo to explore the use of language as a means of political self-representation.

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“Modi’s use of irony provides a form of political spectacle and demonstrably resonates on social media, as quantified by the high retweeting of his sarcastically worded messages,” said the report.

They have identified three rhetorical strategies in these tweets: appeals to the base through the use of popular idiom, creation of a shared cognitive environment to allow followers in on inside jokes and a means of affiliating with the leader, and the performance of righteousness in underlining the leader’s use of wit and restraint.

We try and explain what makes him popular. Modi’s irony provides a form of political spectacle and resonated on social media as shown by high re-tweeting of his sarcastically worded messages,” said Joyojeet Pal, UM assistant professor of information and author of the research.

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The study further notes that social media enabled a new form of populist outreach for Narendra Modi.

“Unlike his appeals to his conservative base supporters, who are stoked by his fiery right-wing oratory on stage, his online rhetoric lacks an overtly confrontational tone and instead projects an image of a technocrat who stands for economic development,” said the report.