A few folks up at Twitter must have looked curiously at their hit statistics last week. One million(-ish) new hits would have looked quite ordinary had not all of them come from the same Asian country called India. But the geographical pattern ends there, the pin-points of visits are spread across the sub-continent, and the clicks keep pounding at the rate of one per half-second. Did we do something extra to promote Twitter in India, last week? One of them who was using a magnifier lens would have suddenly sat up and pointed out that majority of the hits are directed towards one user’s account. The user name is @ShashiTharoor.

There are a large number of uneducated people in India. Among the educated ones, very few are computer-literate. Among the computer and Internet users, an even lesser percentage are aware of social networking sites and Twitter. But last week, almost one hundred percent of newspaper-reading, computer-illiterate public of India have been introduced to the term ‘Twitter’, and many of them have been prowling around and wobbling their way across the Tweetland, thanks to Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for External Affairs, Govt of India.

Who is Dr.Shashi Tharoor and why does he find himself so much in the controversy columns of Indian newspapers these days? A year ago, more than half the public of India had not heard his name. A handful who followed his name were aware that he was the Under Secretary General of the UN. That made us quite proud that an Indian has managed to scale such heights. The Malayali-ness of his name brought extra sense of pride to some Malayalis, too. When he left the UN and showed interest in Indian Politics, a few did frown, but most were overjoyed. So much so that his constituency, Thiruvananthapuram (TVM) went to the polling booths in never-before numbers and catapulted him to victory. The path to becoming a Minister was a logical next step and though there were apparently discontented members in the party, his people were happy.

When one basks so much in success, one often misses to see the few disgruntled, faceless entities lurking in the darkness, waiting for a suitable opportunity to trounce him. The Minister started using Twitter to promote his campaign during the election, and apparently got a little carried away by it, like every other user of Twitter, Facebook, Orkut and Blogs. In his eagerness to please his people, – and his eagerness showed when he shed his long comfortable western wear (in which he looked dashing, I may add) and decided to wear desi as long as he is in the country – he was always keeping them abreast of his movements, his work and his travels. It pays to note that he was careful to never give out a bad comment or unpleasant opinion about anyone in his tweets or to give personal comments on anything until his Party/Govt had announced a stand. To be fair to him, his comments are his most frank and careful views on what passes before his eyes, as his 2 lakh and counting (as of now) followers would testify.

It is also true that being new to the Political Scene, he did not completely and easily merge into it and his behaviour was always different from those that we had encountered for a long time. For the people, it was refreshing. For the Government, it was sometimes horrifying and blasphemous. For the Opposition, it was a potential weak-link of the Govt.

No wonder that among his so-called followers there were some who were silently weighing each word he typed and turning them in and out and trying to find different meanings using the Thesaurus. Imagine their unexpected good fortune when the Minister innocently repeated a phrase from a follower’s question and answered it – he was trying to show his eager support for his Party’s latest stand on Austerity (Another new word that the country has learnt last week!).
“Soup’s on!” they cried and splashed it across the newspapers.
“Cattle class?”
“Holy Cow?”
They screamed.
“He is a New Yorker, he does not know the sensitivities of ordinary Indians!”
(Though, if they had really learnt to use the Thesaurus or Wikipedia, they would have realised that there is nothing to howl about.)

He had barely managed to scrape through this controversy, thanks to PM Manmohan Singh laughing it off as ‘a joke’, and Sonia Gandhi giving a stern warning to the Minister, when he found himself in hot soup again. This time due to the use of the term ‘ridiculous’ to describe his schedule.
“Have a ridiculously full schedule tomorrow with 17 meetings/engagements. You always pay a price when u come back from a trip.”

“He is mocking his schedule! He is laughing at his work!” they said. There they go again, groaned his followers (and maybe he himself). Fortunately for him, this did not seem to have caught fire, and it died down as soon as it sparked (I sure hope so, maybe I speak too soon!).

There are many others – intellectuals, journos and the like – who have not voiced disagreement with Dr.Tharoor’s tweets, but who would prefer to tread carefully to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes. Their message to him is “Tweet less, work more.” Though Dr.Tharoor has not directly replied to any of these comments as far as I know, I believe he would say, “Can one not do both?” An ordinary voter like me does not know what a Minister of State for External Affairs is supposed to be doing. He is expected to travel a great deal, meet a lot of people, have a handful of meetings and come back home once in a while? He does all that; is he not doing his work? He is new to this, for God’s sake. Let’s show him some patience and trust.

One cannot say that all these controversies have not affected him. He sure seems to have, consciously or not, reduced his tweets considerably.

Ah, the woes of Democracy!