Saturday, January 02, 2010
A Twittering Predicament
# Making it more difficult 2 visit India, return here frequently or stay long hurts large nbrs of innocents, costs us millions of$ & alienates.
These are the 2 tweets by Shashi Tharoor which have been splashed across all channels and newspapers and have generated enough controversy for the man who seems to be in a hurry to usher in an era of e-politics. Did our MoS for External Affairs minister say something that is against public norms or morally wrong? But still Fulbright scholar SM Krishna, an honourable man, felt the need to reprimand his junior while the media has joined hands in gleefully branding Tharoor as irresponsible.
Krishna made his displeasure public saying - “These (issues) are not to be discussed in public. If there are any perceptions, then I think these should be sorted out within the four walls of the ministry; the business of government is far too serious and has to be conducted in a manner in which we decide. The broad policy parameters are dictated, decided by the minister in-charge of external affairs of this country and everyone will have to fall on the same page.''
The Indian government is an archaic piece of machinery which refuses to answer any questions put across it because the public is ill-educated to understand complex matters and it is best left to the buffoons who sit in both the Houses to decide on everything on our behalf (assuming that they decide to turn up at the House and try opening their mouths). But when the State refuses to even divulge the names of the Padma nominees claiming the irrelevance o f this information to the public, you know that you are fishing in deep waters and getting a catch here is going to be difficult. Talking to the public is a blasphemous offence by any standards of public probity defined by the State and the media.
Democracy is a 60+ year old institution in India but the concept remains nascent on many counts. Indian Public Policy is an opaque instrument which, despite numerous amendments, is held so sacrosanct by the polity that any discussion on that is anathema to the State. Everything is kept under the wraps of national security and confidentiality and any challenges to the status quo position of the rules are looked at with contempt. After all, how does the “cattle class” know what is right for it; this is the right assigned to the protectors of democracy by the electorate.
There is also a generational conflict of culture taking place here with the cyber savvy Tharoor talking to netizens directly which is against the functioning of the old school of government. The traditionalists are out of sync with new media and still believe that the best ways to show dissent or call for a debate is by manufacturing leaks and planting stories. The old school is entrenched in the roots of “consensus”, where the High Command proposes as well as disposes and the officials merely carry out orders. A healthy democracy thrives in the presence of dissent and it is time to recognize that public dissent also counts in decision making.
There was a counter argument that the response would be the same if this were a private company and that it is not just the Government which is paranoid when it comes to maintain confidentiality of information. But the difference is in primarily the kind of information that is shared across the table – we are not talking about a company’s pricing strategy but a law which has relevance to all our lives. When it comes to matters of public policy or laws that are public knowledge, what is the rationale of trying to build in a veil of secrecy? Isn’t it a step in the right direction when policy matters get discussed on the net and any form of dissent is well-covered so that public can judge accordingly?
But why is the media propping up the likes of SM Krishna here and targetting Tharoor? When you’d expect them to rally against SM Krishna, the media has tried to act as a partisan referee (read Chris Broad) and stand by the establishment. If Shashi Tharoor had called a press conference and said the same things to journalists, he would be hailed as frank and the law called an ass but now he is irresponsible – the foot-in-the mouth minister who is rocking the boat to show off his technological prowess.
Is it that the likes of Rajdeep Sardesai and Co feel threatened by the fact that by using tweet, Tharoor is directly talking to the public and bypassing the media filters? If sound bytes and “exclusive” stories are available online for everyone to see and understand, then how will the media fabricate grapevine news and flash breaking news? Shashi Tharoor talks directly to half a million people on Twitter and very few newspapers or TV channels have the same reach which is making the media uneasy.
Shashi Tharoor is unfortunately no Rahul Gandhi, whose of pearls of wisdom are scooped up by the party workers and displayed as strings of intellect, and cannot expect anyone in the Congress to stand up for his valid questions. The Grand Old Party is slowly undergoing a transformation but the change is only at the surface level and the definition of inner party democracy is confined by the Lakshman Rekha drawn by Sonia and family. Rahul has publicly railed against the Congress culture earlier and done an excellent job as its top Strategy guy and this would have been an excellent opportunity for him to step forward and stand up for Tharoor but then standing up for lightweights is probably not worth the political rewards.
The Twitterer has ruffled many feathers here but will the Ministry be lost for want of a tweet? Whichever way it goes, all I say is it is nice to have a Minister who talks to the public and we need more of his ilk. Way to go, sir, with a half a million strong twitter base, you have a huge online voice listening to you...