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Uttarakhand floods and the big Shashi Tharoor bust up

Politicians wrestling each other virtually on Twitter is something which has found its way back into the limelight with Sushma Swaraj and Manish Tewari heckling each other on the micro-blogging site. It's also the kind of news that accounts for heavy duty drama on news television.

So before anyone else could lay claim to it, Headlines Today announced a discussion on the Twitter wars over Uttarakhand and roped in minister Shashi Tharoor as a guest. The end result was a very angry Rahul Kanwal continuously shaking his head and  Tharoor smiling beatifically in the course of a 13-minute Q&A.

What came out of the show, however, was a sense of futility of talk show interactions which do precious little except display extremes of the human skill of disagreement. Kanwal starts off the interview grilling Tharoor about the necessity of ranting on Twitter. Tharoor, as expected, defends his flock by saying that the Opposition is not really innocent and is equally provocative on the social media.

However, given he is a quintessential diplomat, Tharoor, accedes that it is inappropriate to get into a social media brawl over Uttarakhand at present. The viewer's take-away from that bit of the discussion? Kanwal is a very angry man who shakes his head to pass time, and Tharoor is the ministerial equivalent of a Miss India contestant on a TV show, given that he smiles incessantly.

Shashi Tharoor. AFP.

Shashi Tharoor. AFP.

The next half of the discussion focused on the ISRO report which claimed that a cloudburst warning issued to the NDMA on the morning of 16 June morning was ignored and might have led to the disaster. Now, it is obvious that the warning didn't help stop the disaster. A logical line of questioning, which would be of some help or interest to viewers, would be on the bureaucratic process involved when a warning like that is received. Who received the warning? Given that it is a government agency, what is the course of action that government protocol requires it to take? Also, since the advisory was issued sometime on 16 June, which is when the cloudburst occurred, what was the best the government could have done? Did the NDMA sit on the information or pass it on to other concerned government agencies? Getting a minister to face these questions would have had two possible results:

Had Tharoor answered the questions, it would have given viewers a clear picture of how government agencies work and would have effectively exposed the various drawbacks  they suffer from. Again, had Tharoor not answered the questions, it would have established the fact that the government was definitely guilty of complacence.

However, Kanwal chose to ham about 'how heads are rolling'. If Tharoor and his clan had worried about 'rolling heads', the UPA would have had to give up their business and the Opposition would have to find something else to shout about. So, as expected, Tharoor stuck to his 'he knows not what he says' expression as the anchor shook his head vigorously and shouted about the government's inaction. What he effectively managed to tell Tharoor was perhaps something the whole country has told the UPA a thousand times over - that they are paragons of ineptitude. Tharoor had an answer ready for that: "You're a cynic". Were the viewers told anything new? No.

Later, Tharoor went back to Twitter to say that the questions as broadcast in the interview, were not the ones he answered. He accused the channel of replacing the questions.

The discussion, which seemed like it was designed to establish the pointlessness of Twitter spats, somehow ended up making Twitter fights look better in comparison to expensively shot and televised TV squabbles.

Disclaimer: Firstpost is a part of the Network18 group which also owns TV channels which might be in competition with Headlines Today.

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