Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Should Shashi Tharoor 'tweet'?

Shashi Tharoor's tweets have been extremely popular, candid and humorous. But somehow the government manages to make itself embarrassed on these, and the recent statement by S M Krishna, Tharoor's boss and the Foreign Minister, that he should discuss his 'perceptions' within the 'Four Walls' of the government and not tweet is a clear reflection how uncomfortable the powers that be are.

I am little surprised that we talk about the 'Four Walls' of the government. Where are those walls, really? This sounds too Kremlin-ish: That's not surprising because some of our Senior Ministers and bureaucrats cut their teeth in the old days of Indo-Soviet friendship and refuse to let go the old ways of life. The other two walls I know of - one is in China and the other was in Berlin - are not the right symbols for our government to choose. So, what is Mr. Krishna talking about?

What did Mr. Tharoor say on Twitter? He said that the dilemma we have is whether to make our country less welcoming to tourists, by bringing in rules like one has to leave the country after three months and can not come back within two months thereafter, just because someone like Headley slipped through the net. And, he said terrorists did not come to India on any visa.

He is right on both issues.

But he possibly touched a raw nerve somewhere. The content of his messages are about principles one follows as a private citizen, so don't know why the government is so uncomfortable. The only explanation, perhaps, is the fear of Twitter, or new media in general, that almost all governments suffer from.

My point is that the media environment around us has changed. The point is well demonstrated by earlier Tehelka scandals and now N D Tiwari, even if he was framed. The government is still uncomfortable about openness. This is the old Kremlin school of thinking, which still sees four walls around. There isn't any walls anymore. One can debate whether it is right or wrong to change the visa regime [and I see Barkha Dutt of NDTV feels that other countries have no rights to criticize India when they are so bad with their visas], but on the issue of Twitter, I think the ministers are plain scared.

One has to accept that Twitter is here to stay and the government must change the way it looks at the world.

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