While many politicians set up Twitter accounts in their names but hand over the Tweeting reins to their underlings, it was refreshing to see Shashi Tharoor, a prominent and net savvy former Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, actively using Twitter himself to connect with citizens. Unfortunately for Tharoor, Twitter was one of the main instruments that forced his resignation last week over allegations of improperly using his influence as a politician for personal gain. But his 700,000 followers aren’t accepting his resignation in silence – a massive online campaign has been launched to show support for Tharoor amid the controversy.
Even before his forced resignation, Tharoor was a man of controversy. Dedicated to bringing politics to the younger generation, he actively used his Twitter account to voice his opinions on policy, the media, and his party. According to the Independent, Tharoor was the most popular Twitter user in India with nearly three quarters of a million followers. However, some within the government saw his use of humor in many of his Tweets as a sign that Tharoor was not taking his job seriously.
Although Tharoor was a controversial Twitter figure himself, it was not his account that caused his political demise. The commissioner of the high profile – and highly lucrative – Indian Premier League (cricket), Lalit Modi, Tweeted last week that Tharoor’s girlfriend would have a large stake in a new team. This sparked the controversy that Tharoor used his influence to position his girlfriend as the new stakeholder. After several days of scrutiny and a heated Tweet exchange between Tharoor and Modi, each accusing the other of wrongdoings, Tharoor was forced to resign.
Immediately after his resignation, Tharoor’s Twitter account went dark. It wasn’t until yesterday that he resumed Tweeting, a five day lapse that is uncharacteristic of his daily updated account. The latest post does not deny any of the corruption allegations laid against him, but merely reads: “Thank you for all the kind words on www.SupportTharoor.org. Means a great deal that so many have reached out to me at this time of trial.”
The website that Tharoor is referring to is a pledge site dedicated to showing support for Tharoor, and presumably, getting enough pledges to make a case for his reinstatement. As of this morning, the site has over 13,000 pledges of support.
As the most popular Indian figure on Twitter, it is likely that Tharoor will get many more pledges before all is said and done. It’s doubtful as to whether they will be enough to sway his former party into accepting back into the cabinet, but there is no doubt that they show the power of social media in politics. No longer does a beleaguered politician have to defend him or herself on a one-way media broadcast – now they can directly ask for and receive support from citizens online. This dynamic is sure to have an impact on the way political controversy is spun by the media, as a direct link between politician and citizen means more transparency, accuracy, and, one would hope, honesty.