Indian politicians and the journalists they prefer

Dibyendu Mishra, Joyojeet Pal

(suggested citation: Mishra, D. and Pal, J. (2020) Indian politicians and the journalists they prefer

We plotted Indian politicians based on the number of times they retweeted a member of the press. The goal of this was to understand politicians’ engagement with the press, and their use of various news sources in informing their constituents. We used data from 2019 to understand press engagement during the election season.
Our results show that the vast majority of engagement with the press happens with politicians who are explicitly charged with IT cell or outreach activities, and that politicians who stand for elections, especially for Lok Sabha seats, do not retweet members of the press. The one exception of a highly followed parliamentarian with very significant press engagement is Asad Owaisi of AIMIM. Rajya Sabha members most actively engaging with the press include Rajeev Chandrasekhar of BJP, Misa Bharti and Manoj Jha of RJD. Some of the most followed politicians including Rahul Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have no press interactions, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah clocked single-digit numbers in terms of their tweets that involved a news item.

Politicians and party members who retweet journalists' tweets the the most (min 40 journalists retweeted in 2019)

Figure 1: Politicians and party members who retweet journalists’ tweets them the most (min threshold of 40 journalists retweeted in 2019)

The second trend is that politicians in parties that do not have significant legislative representation are among the most engaged with mainstream media. These include Yogendra Yadav, Kavita Krishnan, and Shehla Rashid, all of whom have engaged with stories from over 150 journalists each during the election season. As we see in figure 1, the AAP and BJP are the parties that most frequently engage with stories from the mainstream media, while the INC significantly lags.

The third finding is a dramatic polarization in the journalists engaged by politicians. As we see in figure 2, Manak Gupta is engaged by the most politicians followed by Rajdeep Sardesai and Rahul Kanwal. However, in terms of influence in the network, Rohit Sardana, Rohini Singh and Aditya Raj Kaul are each significant for the extent and frequency to which they get retweeted. We also find that several non-mainstream commentators/influencers who may not be traditionally understood as journalists, but command large online following including Dhruv Rathee, Ibne Sena (screen name for anonymous individual), Akash Banerjee have significant purchase among politicians. An outlier in figure 2 is Prashant Patel, who is the most retweeted journalist by politicians in 2019, but the retweets tend to be from fewer and less followed politicians.

Journalists most engaged by poliicians

Figure 2: Journalists most engaged by politicians in 2019

The fourth and most significant finding is the extent of polarization. We find limited intersection between the politicians in terms of the sources they choose to retweet. As we see in figure 3 scaled on a spectrum of BJP and non-BJP politicians, with the exception of Rahul Kanwal and Nistula Hebbar, all the politicians have a polarity score of over 0.5, meaning at least 2/3rds of their retweets come from one side or another.

(Figure 3: Polarization of journalists based on preference by parties – x-axis positive score = BJP-leaning, negative score=non-BJP leaning)


The dominance of IT cell and outreach coordinators of parties in press engagements on Twitter underlines their importance as gatekeepers. For instance, Amit Malviya and Suresh Nakhua of BJP, Pankhuri Pathak and Khsuh Sundar of INC, A Saravanan and P Thiagarajan of DMK, Preeti Chobey for Samajwadi Party, Amit Pandit of Shiv Sena, Singai G Ramachandran of AIADMK all played leading roles in retweeting the press.

Table 1 shows us some of the key politician>journalist intersections. Aditya Raj Kaul is a consistently important source retweeted by BJP politicians, while Pankaj Jain is the most frequently used source for key AAP leaders. We also see that journalists from the same organizations may be tweeted by different parties. For instance Shiv Aroor is heavily retweeted by BJP leaders, particularly Rajeev Chandrasekhar, while Rajdeep Sardesai tends to be preferred by non-BJP leaders.

Table 1: Highly followed politicians and MPs and the journalists they retweet most (min 15 interactions)

Key Interactions

We mapped key relationships between politicians and journalists to help visualize the concentration of the political discourse. It also helps understand the overlap between the journalists preferred by certain politicians. The politicians selected for this mapping were those that had significant following (over 200,000) and we only visualized the connections where the politician had retweeted a journalist at least 15 times.



Sample / Methodology

We took the top 1000 highly followed BJP politicians and 1000 non-bjp politicians and pulled their tweets(~5.1M) for the entire year of 2019. We then recorded all instances of retweets (excluding quotes) of the 1899 journalists in our sample by these politicians. We find about 79,000 instances of such retweets.

For the figures above, journalists we selected 46 twitter handles who were retweeted about 46,000 times, covering the vast majority of the journalist engagements. Amongst the politicians we selected 49 twitter handles who retweeted journalists about 20,000 times in 2019. A more detailed methodology of the overall sample and how we approached the analysis is available here.

Data Table

journalist Twitter ID Rank by the number of politicians engaged with the journalist Rank in terms of total retweets by all politicians
manakgupta 1 4
sardesairajdeep 2 6
rahulkanwal 3 33
RubikaLiyaquat 4 13
sardanarohit 5 3
ShekharGupta 6 32
AdityaRajKaul 8 23
rohini_sgh 9 2
sudhirchaudhary 10 14
anjanaomkashyap 11 22
dhruv_rathee 12 10
RajatSharmaLive 13 42
SushantBSinha 14 12
free_thinker 15 11
abhisar_sharma 16 21
sakshijoshii 17 16
ippatel 18 1
ashutosh83B 19 7
chitraaum 20 28
vinodkapri 21 18
Nidhi 22 24
ShivAroor 23 37
Shehzad_Ind 24 8
ajitanjum 25 15
TarekFatah 26 17
sagarikaghose 27 26
waglenikhil 28 45
SreenivasanJain 29 31
nistula 30 44
YRDeshmukh 31 43
DilliDurAst 32 25
PJkanojia 33 19
smitaprakash 34 39
RanaAyyub 35 20
akhileshsharma1 36 36
SwetaSinghAT 37 46
jyotiyadaav 38 29
svaradarajan 39 27
abhijitmajumder 40 30
mkvenu1 41 40
ARanganathan72 42 41
tehseenp 43 9
ashokshrivasta6 44 38
AdityaMenon22 45 35
gauravcsawant 46 34