Screengrab of Omar Abdullah’s Twitter page.
In general, politicians don’t produce the most engaging Twitter accounts. Whether it’s a tight schedule, or a desire to maintain a certain gravitas, their timelines can seem business-like to the point of sterility.
This latest tweet by U.S. President Barack Obama, who has 7.5 million followers, and is undoubtedly very busy, is representative of the genre: “Making a personnel announcement at 3:10pm ET. Watch live at http://wh.gov/live.”
But in India, a new type of political Twitter account is emerging, one in which the politicians – not some junior aide – are in control and interacting with all-comers.
The trail-blazer of this new approach was Shashi Tharoor, a member of parliament for Thiruvananthapuram.
Mr. Tharoor, who has almost a million followers, adopts a light-hearted tone. In 2009, he got in hot water by saying in a tweet that he’d be happy to travel economy — or “cattle class” — on official business “out of solidarity with all our holy cows.”
The association of ordinary Indians with bovines didn’t go down too well.
Now, Mr. Tharoor could well be eclipsed by another senior politician who appears to be taking an even more engaged approach: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
Mr. Abdullah, who got on Twitter late last year, has a modest 20,000 followers, but he’s built the base quickly and it’s growing fast.
His style is perhaps surprising for the chief minister of a major Indian state, one that forms part of the Himalayan territory of Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed in full by both.
No follower, however inconsequential, is too small to elicit a reply from Mr. Abdullah. He regularly uses epithets like “dude” and has employed scatological terms such as “crap.” Emoticons and one-liners from the “Dilbert” cartoon strip pepper his tweets.
In the early hours of this morning, Mr. Abdullah counseled @mkandharii, a Jammu resident with only 14 followers, not to write in all caps as it was rude.
After being called “finicky,” Mr. Abdullah was drawn to respond, “Just helping you learn the polite way to converse here.”
One may ask whether the chief minister of a state with massive economic problems and a continued separatist insurgency has time to send out a deluge of social-media missives.
Davindar Singh Rana, Mr. Abdullah’s media advisor, responds that the account is an attempt to show Mr. Abdullah is a man of the people.
“The general perception last year was that the chief minister was not reachable, not accessible,” Mr. Rana said. “He’s reaching out to the people.”
Well, at least those with Internet connections and a Twitter account.
Mr. Abdullah’s account is definitely entertaining.
During the Cricket World Cup he delivered an almost ball-by-ball commentary on play. He made a dig at India star all-rounder Yuvraj Singh’s batting during the Pakistan-India semifinal, and later apologized after India’s victory, saying he made it up with his bowling:
“Hat’s off to you dude. ”
He also ribbed NDTV news anchor, Barkha Dutt, a friend, during the same match, for paying more attention to the countries’ prime ministers, who were in attendance, than the game.
“@BDUTT I can’t believe you are lucky enough to be in the stadium & you are more interested in the two PMs. Change places with me please ”
This is not to say there is nothing serious in the timeline. Mr. Abdullah knocks back Indian nationalists and separatists both.
At times, he’s broken news. On Jan. 31, he tweeted that two teenage girls kidnapped from their home in Sopore, a town in the Kashmir valley where separatist violence is common, were killed by “militants.”
Some criticized him for making assertions before police made public comments about the case. Mr. Rana, his adviser, said he had information from police at the time. The police later said that militants from the Pakistan-backed Lashkar-e-Taiba group carried out the killings.
“If you can’t condemn the killing of these two girls, irrespective of your political beliefs & do so without qualifying it then shame on you,” Mr. Abdullah tweeted.
One can’t help feeling there’s a lack of serious policy debate on his account. There are few links to plans showing what the government is doing for the economy or serious discussions of how to reduce separatist tensions in one of the world’s geopolitical hotspots. But maybe that’s not the point of the exercise.
Follow Tom Wright on Twitter.
Fuente: India Real Time