I have been following Shashi Tharoor’s Tweets since the run-up to the Indian election, and have found him reliably interesting. The fact that he has been using Twitter is to some a gimmick, but it has been a bit of fresh air to people who want politicians to be accessible to ordinary people. (Melvin wrote a parody of the Twittering Minister back in June.)
But recently Shashi Tharoor’s Tweets have landed him in hot water. On September 14, he posted the following 12 words on Twitter:
@KanchanGupta absolutely, in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!
Kanchan Gupta is an editor at The Pioneer; Tharoor was answering a Tweeted question. The question came in response to a recent directive that government leaders should take austerity measures — don’t stay in 5 star hotels, take the train instead of fly, etc. (Tharoor himself has been living in a luxury hotel in Kerala; as I understand it, he pays his rent out of his own pocket, not Indian government funds.)
Within a day, the throwaway line was all over the Indian news and print media, with opposition leaders demanding an apology and Congress party leadership trying to figure out how to explain Tharoor’s apparent contemptuous elitism. PM Manmohan Singh himself had to intervene, stating that he felt the phrase “cattle class” was just a joke.
A boilerplate example of the outrage over the line, and Tharoor’s Twittering in general, can be found here.
Tharoor subsequently posted the following:
learned belatedly of fuss over my tweet replying to journo’s query whether i wld travel to Kerala in “cattle class”. His phrase which i rptd
it’s a silly expression but means no disrespect to economy travellers, only to airlines for herding us in like cattle. Many have misunderstd
i’m told it sounds worse in Malayalam, esp out of context. To those hurt by the belief that my repeating the phrase showed contempt: sorry
i now realize i shldnt assume people will appreciate humour. &u shouldn’t give those who wld wilfully distort yr words an opportnty to do so
What do people think? Tempest in a teapot, or some legitimate issues here? Should Tharoor either stick to Tweeting “straight,” or ought there be some room for humor for Indian politicians?