Twitter Brings Down Top Official In India

This may be the best example yet of the growing power of social media, including Twitter and blogs, to bring about sudden, sweeping political change. The current political scandal in India is also a cautionary tale to watch what you say online.

Over the weekend India's junior foreign minister, Shashi Tharoor, resigned his post amid revelations of widespread corruption in India's cricket leagues (the national sport -- really, obsession -- is big business, with broadcast rights and advertising revenues in the billions). Tharoor was forced to resign over allegations he gave his support to a shady deal involving the $4-billion Indian Premier League in return for a $15 million payoff to a female friend. With the political opposition demanding an investigation, it's a distinct possibility the scandal will grow to include other government ministers.

As usual, India's broadcast media are having a field day with the scandal. What's more interesting, however, is the role that social media played in bringing down Tharoor (and, consequently, whoever happens to follow him).

One of the main forums for trading accusations has been Twitter, which Tharoor and his opponents all use liberally. Tharoor was already on probation with Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi for snarky tweets following a public reprimand for spending nearly a month in a fancy hotel while his government-owned residence was being renovated. Tweets by Lalit Modi, the mercurial boss of the Indian Premier League, led to Tharoor's downfall -- but the controversy they fueled now threatens to engulf Modi as well.

Specifically, Modi's tweets on April 11 laid out the financial stakes awarded to various groups as part of a deal to bring the IPL franchise to new provinces, pointedly noting certain shares distributed to interests -- including Tharoor's female friend -- who didn't really play a role in the deal. One tweet demanded to know "who are the shareholders... and why have they been given this 100's of million dollar bonanza?" As news media picked up the story, detailing Tharoor's connection, he responded with a blog post stating that "I have neither invested nor received a rupee for my mentorship of the team" - an ill-advised choice of words, it turns out, since he ostensibly had nothing to do with the negotiations.

Now, however the investigation has widened to include dirty laundry that Modi certainly never intended to air in public -- like the fact that rich team owners have used their sports franchises to launder money from other illegal ventures. These new revelations have many commentators saying Modi himself may end up being forced to resign, if he doesn't face criminal charges. Meanwhile Tharoor, now that he has been forced out of government, may be at liberty to dish a lot more trash about corruption in the world of cricket, Indian politics and business generally.

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