A couple of days back when I got to know on my Twitter that there will be a tweetup with someone no less than Shashi Tharoor on Friday, Nov 6, I was so excited like a schoolboy getting to meet his favourite cricket star. In fact, it looked too good to be true, that I restrained myself from telling anyone about it.
It mustn’t have been any different for other tweeple either. For, Tharoor is the icon of the Indian tweeting community. This was the moment the tweeple were waiting for.
What a meteoric rise it has been for this former diplomat on the popularity chart. After narrowly missing the post of the secretary-general of the United Nations, he was the surprise choice as the Congress candidate for the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency. That was the first time the Indian aam janata was getting to this greatly accomplished person.
That he was advised by his aide, Jacob Joseph, (currently Office on Special Durty to Tharoor in the MEA), to open a Twitter account and connect with his constituents shows the faith people have on this microblogging platform.
Tharoor won by a huge margin, became the minister of state for external affairs, and quietly along with his work his fan following on Twitter too has been growing. From zero followers on March 16 to 3,99,388 on November 6 – is this some sort of a record?
Tinu Cherian, Hrish Thota and Santhosh P pulled off this big-ticket tweetup with Tharoor. The tweeple who had assembled at the Bangalore International Centre, TERI complex, Domlur, couldn’t wait for this moment. And, no sooner Tharoor had completed his witty brief introduction (mainly into how he got into politics and tweeting), questions gushed in torrents. And the nouveau politician fielded them all with aplomb very much the way a diplomat would do.
A reference to his cattle-class remark was inevitable. And it soon happened. “It did a lot of damage,” he admitted lamenting how the joke had, not just fallen flat, but metamorphosed into multiple distorted versions. He recalled the difficult days when he was asked to defend Twitter on TV and was called by the Prime Minister to explain what Twitter was. “Someone even advised me to give it up for the sake of my political career.”
Why did he persist then? “I am not revealing any state secrets or breaching the Official Secrets Act. I see it as a good tool to demystify the process of governance. It also brings in transparency and accountability.” An overzealous tweeple was only quick to suggest that tweeting must be made compulsory for all ministers, to which Tharoor quipped, “I shouldn’t be the one to do that.”
Has been able to inspire other politicians to tweet. “The negative publicity in the mainstream media has scared them off. But I am absolutely sure that they will come back.”
There were questions on his work, his suggestion for Indo-Pak cricket match in the US, how he has been dealing with the Left Front in his constituency and so on.
As an example of how Twitter can serve a social purpose, he spoke of an instance when he tweeted about a girl who had lost her leg in an accident in Kerala. After seeing the tweet, many people came forward to help the girl.
At one point, during the tweetup, it seemed the roles had reversed — Tharoor was the listener. The audience, comprising mostly software professionals, generously offered suggestions on how his ministry could be made more transparent and interactive. But it looks there is a long way to go, as Throor himself said, “Twitter is banned in the MEA.”
(An abridged version of this appeared on page 2 of today’s Times of India, Bangalore)