twits and spats

Proof yet again: There’s no such thing as a social media-savvy politician

January 16, 2014
January 16, 2014

Shashi Tharoor, a prolific author and longtime UN official turned politician, has been one of India’s social media stars. He was the first Indian to amass 100,000 followers on Twitter thanks to his “blend of intellect and subtle humor,” and now counts more than 2 million—all of whom had a front-row seat for some domestic drama this week.

On Jan. 15, a series of strange tweets was sent from Tharoor’s account, including what seemed to be retweeted direct messages from a Pakistani journalist named Mehr Tarar, in which she claimed to love Tharoor. The tweets in question have been deleted, but FirstPost has a rundown.

Despite plenty of gaffes, public figures continue to rely on Twitter for private conversations, only to be tripped up, either by its direct messaging option, or, as appears Tharoor’s case, by leaving his account accessible to an aggrieved spouse. Former US congressman Anthony Weiner’s accidental public tweet of his briefs in 2011 might be the most well-known example, but political Twitter mistakes have become so commonplace that website Politwoops was created just to archive them.

Like Weiner, Tharoor, a minister in India’s agency overseeing education, initially claimed his account had been compromised:

But his wife Sunanda had allegedly taken control of the Twitter account and sent the messages, irate about his relationship with Tarar. Later, Tharoor’s wife—his third—took to Twitter herself to call the journalist a Pakistani intelligence agent, and accuse her of stalking her husband.

Then she told the Indian Express that she was seeking a divorce.

On Jan. 16, Tharoor and his wife issued a joint statement (on Facebook) that bizarrely asked the public to forget the whole thing:

Various distorted accounts of comments allegedly made by Sunanda have appeared in the press…We wish to stress that we are happily married and intend to remain that way. Sunanda has been ill and hospitalized this week and is seeking to rest.

Tharoor now joins other notaries like British member of Parliament Ed Balls, who created a one-man meme by tweeting just his name:

and then failing to delete it, inspiring British voters to declare the day “Ed Balls Day” and continue to celebrate it two years on.

Whether the situation will have any long-term impact on India’s upcoming national election is unclear. Tharoor bounced back quickly from an earlier “scandal,” involving allegations against his wife, and Indian voters have turned a blind (or at least forgiving) eye in the past to allegations of corruption, infidelity, and evidence of downright incompetence. Allegations of romantic involvement with a woman from Pakistan, however, may be a tweet too far.

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