Open Diary

Swapan Dasgupta is an MP and India’s foremost conservative columnist
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The embarrassment of a hacked Twitter account and the experience of a budget speech

I HAVE NEVER BEEN pick- pocketed in a crowded street and I don’t know the feeling of bewilderment and helplessness that immediately follows such an experience. The nearest I have come to helpless anger is when my Twitter account was hacked.

That in itself was bad enough, but it was accompanied by profound embarrassment on two counts. First, the Turkish group that imagines Pakistan is its foremost ally not only posted some puerile propaganda from my timeline but also some I-love-Pakistan type tweets. Some friends immediately gauged that my account had been hacked. Others imagined that senility or madness had finally struck me.

Secondly, Direct Messages were sent from my account asking them to click on a link that appeared to be a newspaper article from the Guardian. I was myself gullible enough to open a link sent to me via Direct Message by the former Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu who was a contemporary of mine in London. Some of those tried to check, thinking something was fishy. Tavleen Singh got alerted when the DM said ‘Dear Singh’ rather than ‘Dear Tavleen’ but I understand some people fell prey and in turn got their accounts hacked. I can only squirm in embarrassment.

Actually, that is the big problem in getting hacked—as opposed to discovering a virus in your computer system. More than outrage, you feel terribly silly. Silly because it was your carelessness that created a gateway for the hackers. You also look silly because your online carelessness has created public embarrassment for yourself.

A few reporters called me up about the incident. I tried my best to laugh it off and compliment Twitter India for being so incredibly helpful and supportive. However, inside me I felt a complete jerk— almost as if I had fallen for an email lottery scam.

WATCHING THE UNION Budget from the gallery of the Lok Sabha reserved for Members of Parliament of the Upper House is very different from watching it on television. This year, I was in a row that had a lot of leg space, but, alas, no place for a headphone jack. Consequently, I had to strain my ears to hear what Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was saying.

Jaitley is an accomplished speaker in both English and Hindi and he is riveting in Parliament, especially when he explaining something as complex as the Goods and Services Tax. I guess that is why he was such a successful lawyer in an earlier life.

Unfortunately, reading from a prepared text is a very different ball game altogether. And more so because in this year’s Budget speech, he switched between English and Hindi.

Jaitley’s reading left me quite underwhelmed and this had nothing to do with the actual content of the Budget. The reason, in my view, was that there is a very important distinction between a text that is meant to be read and a prepared speech that has to be delivered. Most international leaders, not least in the West, deliver important speeches from prepared texts. They too read from either paper or an auto-cue. But why does a Bill Clinton or a Barack Obama—to mention two compelling public speakers in the US—sound so good while delivering a prepared text? That is because the text has been crafted to be read aloud. That is different from a text that is silently read and digested. Our babus who write the budget speeches—the Finance Minister merely embellishes it with an odd paragraph or the mandatory inspirational quote—have not yet learnt the craft of writing speeches for delivery. They merely pen departmental notes.

But Jaitley shouldn’t worry too much. Atal Bihari Vajpayee—arguably one of Independent India’s prize orators—was absolutely terrible reading from a prepared text. For many years, he was advised to speak without a text from the Red Fort. Quite inexplicably, he was hesitant and ended up doing a bad job reading. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been careful to not repeat that mistake. He speaks with the aid of notes but rarely from a prepared text. That is why he has been able to communicate better as Prime Minister than Vajpayee.

I guess Winston Churchill was the rare exception of a man who wrote inspirational prose that could sound just as appealing when read over the radio. No wonder both his speeches and writings live on.