September 25, 2015

Diversity and Unity of India

By: Shankar Kalyanaraman, Smriti Bhagat, Winter Mason

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting Facebook’s Menlo Park campus this Sunday. In a recent address to the nation on the occasion of India’s 69th Independence Day, Modi said that “the vastness and the diversity of India is always talked about . . . and India derives its strength from this diversity, simplicity and unity in every part of the country.” For a country with more than 1.2 billion people, about 780 languages and 29 states, India’s diversity in culture, geography, and people is truly remarkable.

This broad diversity is represented on Facebook too, where people share and connect with the people and topics they care about most. Below are some interesting trends from movies, sports, and politics gathered from the various Facebook pages followed by people from India.


The great debate: Baahubali vs. Bajrangi Bhaijaan

This year has seen two record-breaking movies from India. Baahubali is a mythological fantasy by acclaimed director SS Rajamouli, who is originally from Hyderabad — the joint capital of Telangana (TG) and Andhra Pradesh (AP). Although the movie has been dubbed in many languages, it was originally shot in Telugu, a language spoken widely in TG and AP. Meanwhile, the Hindi movie Bajrangi Bhaijaan, about the journey home of a little girl from Pakistan stranded in India, features one of Bollywood’s biggest stars, Salman Khan. Both
movies’ stories
have been credited to KV Vijayendra Prasad (the father of the director of Baahubali). The two movies were released around the same time and have been vying with each other for the coveted title of the most successful Indian movie ever.

Despite the common lineage and box office success, the movies highlight some of the diversity in India. Analyzing Page likes for each movie on Facebook, we see that the northern half of the country seems to favor Bajrangi Bhaijaan, with Gujarat (GJ) leading: 1.8% of people active on Facebook from that state are fans of the movie’s Page. On the other hand, the southern half heavily tips toward Baahubali. In Andhra Pradesh (AP) alone, a staggering 8.8% of the people active on Facebook like Baahubali’s Facebook Page!

Competition between the movies Bajrangi Bhaijaan (green) and Baahubali (red) in the north and south of India. Points represent states in India plotted according to the relative distance between them with the size reflecting the number of people from the state active on Facebook, and the color representing the fraction of people liking one of the two movies.

Film Stars

One would imagine Amitabh Bachchan (known as “Big B” and star of over 180 movies over 40 years) to be the most followed actor country-wide. The data tells a more diverse story. The figure below shows top film stars and the states where they are most popular, based on Bollywood and Kollywood page likes. (The latter is the active film industry in the South, centered in the Kodambakkam neighborhood of Chennai, India).

In most of the country, Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Deepika Padukone have enormous appeal. However in the south, we see a bevy of local film stars, including Vijay, Allu Arjun and Dulquer Salmaan, who draw appeal from within their own states.

Note that this data is limited to likes on Facebook and may miss out on some of the biggest stars in the South, like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan who have devoted fans off-Facebook. In South Indian cinema, activity on Facebook also validates the idea that male actors are identified uniquely with the language of their movies and their state; there are few male actors who have cross-state appeal. This is not the case with multilingual female actors: Kajal Agarwal has nearly 17 million followers drawn from multiple states including Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu.

The left side represents celebrities; the height of the bar is proportional to the number of likes. The right side represents the distribution of likes from different states. The states on the right, the left side changes to the distribution of likes for each celebrity in that state. Visualization inspired by NPashaP’s BiPartite.



India’s love for cricket is well known. It is not uncommon to have hordes of fans lining up at airports cheering their favorite cricketers on tour. The Indian cricket team has several players who are adored, but three of them, current India Test captain Virat Kohli, current India ODI captain MS Dhoni, and the legendary Sachin Tendulkar, draw the most appeal from Indians on Facebook. The figure below shows that 42-year old Sachin Tendulkar’s fans are themselves somewhat older, while fans of 26-year old Kohli and 34-year old Dhoni are younger. Kohli also has a greater proportion of female fans, with 20% of his fans being women, compared to 15% for Sachin, and 14% for Dhoni.

Age distribution of fans of the three most liked Indian cricketers of Facebook.

In the figure below, we show the most popular athlete in each state. There is no doubt that cricket has appeal in every state of the country, but Indians also celebrate other sports, especially those where Indian athletes have performed well. These athletes are not always as well known nationally as their cricket contemporaries, but they have dedicated support from the state/region they originate from. In the east, cricketers are not even the most “popular” athletes. They trail football stars like Ronaldo, Beckham, Neymar Jr. and Leo Messi (who are also very popular in Goa), and MC Mary Kom, a Manipur-native boxer who won the Bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. Looking beyond the top athletes, it is clear that fans enjoy wrestling in North India. For instance, John Cena is very popular in the northernmost states of Jammu & Kashmir (JK), Himachal Pradesh (HP) and Punjab (PB), including the union territory of Chandigarh (CH).

The most liked athlete in each state. For the most part cricketers rule, however parts of India favor football players and a female Indian wrestler over cricketers. Points represent states in India plotted according to the relative distance between them with the size reflecting the number of people from the state active on Facebook, and the color representing the most-liked athlete.

Female Athletes

The top five female athletes (based on likes from Indians) are fervently supported throughout the country. Sania Mirza, ranked No. 1 in the world in women’s doubles tennis, and Saina Nehwal, ranked No. 1 in the world in women’s singles badminton, have huge followings in the north, south and west. In the east, boxer MC Mary Kom tops all charts. We see a clear home state advantage when considering the fraction of the state following these athletes. A larger fraction of her home state of Jharkhand supports Deepika Kumari, former world No. 1 archer, compared with any other state. However, not all popularity comes from local support! A larger fraction of states like Punjab support Jwala Gutta, a badminton player from Hyderabad, Telangana.

Percentage of fans from each state for each of the top 5 female athletes.


All politics is local, as the saying goes. Nowhere is this truer than in India, where politicians and political parties can be widely followed by millions of people within a state, yet remain virtually unknown outside it. This is a consequence of the parliamentary form of democracy and the federal structure of government in India. We capture this by identifying, for each state, political parties and politicians that have the highest fraction of page likes from that state. Parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Indian National Congress (INC) are well-represented in all 36 states and union territories, while regional parties such as the Jana Sena Party are associated only with Andhra Pradesh. With more than 30 million followers on Facebook, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the second-most followed politician on Facebook (next only to US President Barack Obama). The prime minister’s support is especially strong in his home state of Gujarat, where more than 28% of people from India active on Facebook who like any page also like Narendra Modi’s page. His page is also widely liked in Rajasthan (27%), Madhya Pradesh (26%), Uttar Pradesh (25%) and Haryana (25%).

Popular politicians and political organizations for each state and their fan following across states. Visualization inspired by mbostock’s hierarchical edge bundling.

Which parties are favored by younger or older citizens? We looked at the age distributions of people from India on Facebook who like the pages of some of the largest Indian political parties with verified Facebook pages: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian National Congress (INC), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Samajwadi Party (SP), All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Note that this analysis also includes people who may like two or more of the political parties. Support for most parties comes from the 18-24 age group of Indians, with INC having the largest fraction of its fans among these people. AIADMK and AITC enjoy roughly equal or higher support from people in the 25-34 age group.

Age distribution of fans for Indian political parties on Facebook. The y-axis shows the fraction of people who like a given political party’s Facebook page that come from a specific age bracket.

What brings India together?

The country celebrated Independence Day on August 15, and Indians took to Facebook to express themselves. Status updates can
contain a feeling annotation
, like “feeling crazy” or “feeling patriotic.” We analyzed the sentiments in these feeling annotations by city. Leaving out the top three emotions (which we’ll get to in a second), the big cities in the west (Mumbai, Pune) and south (Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad) felt “patriotic.” Kolkatans felt “blessed” while Delhiites and those from Patna in Bihar felt “excited.” Most of the smaller cities south of Delhi are marked with orange circles signifying patriotism, while cities in Punjab feel blessed.

Figure shows different cities in India and the most prominent emotion (ignoring the top three) among the posts from that city. Points represent cities in India plotted according to the relative distance between them with the size reflecting the number of people active on Facebook expressing a given emotion on Facebook.

But the dominant emotions among all Indians were of pride and happiness. Perhaps this reflects that in spite of all their differences, the people of India belong to one nation with one identity binding them together.

70% of Indians expressing one of these top 10 feelings on Independence Day felt “proud”.