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WEB OF DEMOCRACY

To tweet or not to tweet — that is the great question over which some of the best minds in the country are puzzling. Indian civil servants, who usually have to answer a lot of difficult questions to get to where they are, cannot make up their minds on this relatively frivolous matter. Their dilemma comes across as odder still when one considers the fact that one of the most prominent members of the Indian bureaucracy — no less than the foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao — has a personal account on Twitter up and running for several weeks now. Yet, until recently, only a curiously tiny fraction of Ms Rao’s colleagues had made the leap from the stiff corridors of South Block to the new-age sleekness of cyberspace.

Ironically, Twitter is not only perceived as a great leveller of society in the 21st century, but also celebrated as a potent and peaceful weapon capable of ushering in major political changes. It played a towering role in revealing the atrocities of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime in Iran. In China, as in many other authoritarian countries across the world, it has given a new lease of life to human-rights activism. When Twitter was launched five years ago, it was packaged as just another social-networking site where people preened or procrastinated, celebrities ran their public relations campaigns, and entrepreneurs sought potential clients. But Twitter now has become much larger than what its founders had envisioned. People across the world use it as a weapon of mass communication to make and unmake governments. Politicians are both scared of, and seduced by, it. For even the slightest slip of the keyboard, or a few well-chosen words by a rival, can lead to the decline and fall of those in the highest places. At the same time, Twitter can also become the key to successful political campaigning — it helped elect presidents or eject them from positions of power, as demonstrated by Barack Obama’s victory in the United States of America and the revolution in Egypt respectively.

So, for public figures, a readiness to be a part of the Twitter Revolution has now become almost synonymous with having their hearts in the right place. By putting themselves in the public domain, ministers, diplomats, parliamentarians and state officials across the globe are affirming their old pledge to serve the people in a new manner. They are not only opening up hitherto unimagined channels of access but also identifying themselves with one of the first principles of liberalism: equality of all people. India, as one of the rising stars of the new geopolitical order, has no reason to adhere to norms and conventions that governed bureaucratic behaviour in another era. Used prudently and responsibly, Twitter can become a defining symbol of democracy. It would be a shame if some of the most illustrious members of the world’s largest democracy failed to realize this.

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