On 1 July, the Indian President decided to get onto Twitter and over the next few days didn’t exactly set the social networking world on fire. The first tweet from @RashtrapatiBhvn was that they are now tweeting, which kind of belabours the point. If it is imperative to announce it then there is always the CIA way of doing it; the US spy agency got onto Twitter early last month and tweeted, ‘We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet’.
The President’s second tweet went thus: ‘President presents National Awards, Shilp Guru Awards & Sant Kabir Awards to Artisans & Weavers for 2011.’ Nothing wrong with that but it does beg the intriguing question why awards for 2011 are being given in 2014. The third tweet—‘Indigenous handicraft & handlooms cherished aspect of Indian life; reflects nation’s diversity & infinite creativity. President Mukherjee’—might have sent the adrenaline racing of a few joint secretaries in the Cultural Affairs Ministry, but chances are the rest of India wasn’t as startled.
And so it goes on till the person who is supposed to send out these missives on behalf of the President into the virtual world decided to lighten the mood a little. Tweet eight is therefore images of rain at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Tweet nine gets more cryptic. It shows puddles on the grounds of Rashtrapati Bhavan and these words—‘After the rains! Note the reflection of the dome, and is it a map that the rains have drawn?’ That puddle does look like a map of India. No one in high offices of the Indian Government uses a word like ‘map’ lightly. Is it then a subtle message to the External Affairs Ministry on a course correction they need to do during their border negotiations with China? Should the Research and Analysis Wing send four astrologers to read the omens and prepare a secret report that will not be read until 2040? Alas, we will perhaps never know because it won’t get tweeted about.
Why does the Indian President have tweets laden with dispassion? They are done by his Secretariat on his behalf. But that is also, at one level, the problem. Twitter updates get traction when there is a personal element to it. While Presidents are bound by the code of office to be as dour and boring as possible, showing a little bit of emotion might not be such a bad thing. Take the tweets of the White House. Before the match between America and Belgium at the Fifa World Cup, its tweet went: ‘In America, we don’t settle. We out-hustle the competition. That’s who we are. Let’s do this, @USSoccer!’ And after the defeat there are pictures of US President Barack Obama on the phone with the team’s goalkeeper and forward with an accompanying line: ‘“Man, I just wanted to call and say you guys did us proud!” —President Obama to @TimHowardGK & @ Clint_Dempsey’.
Notice the difference in tone between the White House and Rashtrapati Bhavan. One tries to be as human as possible and the other tries to make it a government bulletin (except when it comes to puddles). One engages in the casual language of its people and the other, in the timehonoured tradition of officialese, uses language to maintain distance.