India: Twittering Minister Forced To Resign

Shashi Tharoor. Image By Wikimedia Commons & MEDEF

Shashi Tharoor. Image By Wikimedia Commons & MEDEF

Dr. Shashi Tharoor is a prolific author, columnist, journalist, human rights advocate and has worked in the United Nations as an Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information. In last year's parliamentary election in India, he was elected as a member of the Parliament from the Thiruvananthapuram constituency in Kerala and was later selected as the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs. During his tenure as a Minister he gained popularity and at the same time was often subject to controversy because of his open views on state affairs in his Twitter account (which is being followed by over 738000 people). His openness irked the traditional politicians and he was warned by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader M Venkaiah Naidu with these words: “What is this twitting? Too much twitting will lead to quitting.”

Ironically, his own Twitter message was not behind the undoing of Shashi Tharoor, but the accusations sparked by a series of Twitter messages of the IPL commissioner Lalit Modi. On April 18, 2010 Tharoor was forced to resign from his post over allegations of corruption and misuse of office to get share in Indian Premier League (IPL) franchisee of Kochi.

The scandal was termed IPL's Twittergate by Linus Fernandes. Tharoor was a ‘mentor’ in the small town Kochi’s bid to win one of two IPL franchises being created for next year’s tournament, which was staged by a consortium called Rendezvous. Against expectations, the consortium won the auction with the highest bid ($333 million) and soon it was disclosed that Mr Tharoor’s girlfriend, Sunanda Pushkar, was a member of the consortium and she got a huge sweat equity deal from the consortium. He was accused of failing to declare an interest in the process and benefiting personally.

Offstumped – Center Right Indian Politics informs:

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has recommended to the President that she accept Shashi Tharoor’s resignation from the Union Cabinet. This is the first major scandal to hit the Manmohan Singh Sonia Gandhi lead UPA Government. [..]

It was clear for months now that there was deep discontent over Tharoor within the Party with a motivated campaign to get his job.

Prem Panicker comments:

The party dumped the minister, and made a virtue out of internal necessity by making a play for the high moral ground.

Jaya Jha at Miles To Go blog asks “what exactly has Tharoor done to be forced to resign?“:

Now for God’s sake – can somebody tell me what exactly has Tharoor done wrong? Supposedly taken money from Rendezvous Sports making Sunanda Pushkar his front, but did what in return? What did he influence? What could he influence? The logic seems to be absent from the entire discourse!

Purba at Desicritics writes:

The situation is uncannily similar to an archaic classroom where the rigid school teacher punishes the student for daring to defy the system and raising uncomfortable questions. Political parties in the world’s largest democracy, unfortunately, are run like autocracies.

On the other hand, Retributions Blog thinks that despite the case against Shashi Tharoor is legally weak, he has to go because of moral grounds:

Legally speaking, the case against Shashi Tharoor is rather weak. While it may be argued that his associate Sunanda Pushkar has got a rather sweet deal in the Kochi consortium, sweat equity deals are not illegal per se. The involvement of Mr. Tharoor remains indirect at best—after all, for a politician still finding his feet in the rough and tumble of Indian politics, a IPL team for his state is no small coup. And if a certain associate of his benefited from the deal—well, it is one those cases sitting on the hazy boundary dividing ethics and law. [..]

The representatives of new India cannot behave like the politicians of yore. And if they do, they must be dumped.

After Shashi Tharoor's resignation an online campaign had been started by his close family and friends under the banner and it gained popularity amongst netizens recoding approximately 19000 pledges till writing of this report.

Shashi Tharoor thanked his supporters with this Tweet:

tharoor tweet

Here is a video uploaded to YouTube by pramodlife showing Tharoor's statement in Parliament negating the accusations: “My conscience is clear, I have done nothing wrong”:

Offstumped explains why does matter:

As Shashi Tharoor attempts to make a case in his defense to Parliament for the second time, it will be interesting to see how the digital activism on evolves.

Shiv Singh at Going Social Now debates what the resignation of Tharoor means for the politician twitterati around the world:

Here was an Indian politician that was using new media to reach people everywhere and was having great success at doing so. This seemed the future of democracy. But it was all to come to an end rather suddenly. [..]

So what does this all mean? Politicians around the world have realized that Twitter can be an extremely powerful communication tool for them. They're also discovering that speaking on the record and off the record have different meanings now. Many are also discovering that when you're part of a government, you walk a fine line between telling people what you really think (which Twitter lends itself well to doing) or limiting yourself to what you're supposed to say. Politicians are realizing that their constituents love reading their tweets and getting their on the spot opinions. It makes politics and policy making more personal, real and engaging (maybe it'll increase civic engagement). But through the Shashi Tharoor example, the same politicians are also going to learn that social media platforms like Twitter can be extremely dangerous for them when it is used as a way to expose scandals or poke holes in their promises.


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