New Delhi (The Telegraph): Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday night wished Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on a birthday that is actually three months away, drawing an embarrassing response from the Afghan leader.
The greetings in haste have also underscored a key frailty of the Modi government: making public statements without adequate verification.
"Happy birthday @ashrafghani," Modi - or his team - posted on Twitter, referring to the site account of the Afghan president. "Praying for your long life and exceptional health and a joyful journey ahead."
Modi has used Twitter similarly to wish multiple world leaders on their birthdays -- US President Barack Obama, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu among others. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif received greetings on Twitter in 2014, and then in person during Modi's Lahore visit last December.
But the response from Ghani, who was travelling in Munich, was an embarrassing lesson for the Twitter-happy Prime Minister's team.
"Greetings from Munich, Mr. PM," Ghani wrote back on Twitter. "Although my birthday is on 19th May, but I'd still like to thank you for your gracious words. :)"
Officials familiar with the team that works on Modi's Twitter account said the error crept in probably because of a dependence by the team on Google, which wrongly lists Ghani's birthday as February 12.
But even a quick look through the top pages thrown up by Google's search engine after a hunt for "Ashraf Ghani" should have alerted Modi's team to obvious red flags. Several pages show Ghani's date of birth as May 19 -- the discrepancy with the Google date should have prompted an attempt at verification.
Instead, the birthday wish on Twitter ended up highlighting a penchant for hurried public posts on the micro-blogging site that have left the Prime Minister and some of his senior-most ministers red-faced.
Modi's goof-up on Twitter came eight days after he posted a condolence message on the "demise of soldiers in Siachin" after an avalanche, before the completion of rescue efforts that found one soldier alive. Hanamanthappa Koppad, the soldier, died a week later of multiple organ failure at an army hospital in New Delhi.
On October 1, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj posted a message on Twitter that "Saudi authorities have released photos of 1,090 pilgrims who have died in the Haj stampede," referring to a tragedy that occurred when a crowd was directed towards a blocked road.
But Sushma, in her rush, had not waited to check facts. A day after Sushma's Twitter post, Saudi Arabia made clear that the photos it had shared with India and other countries were of all pilgrims who had died from the start of the Haj last year. These included victims of a crane crash in the Grand Mosque earlier in September.
Three months later, it was home minister Rajnath Singh who left the government embarrassed.
After the first day of the Pathankot terror attack on January 2, the home minister used Twitter to post a congratulatory message to soldiers, declaring that all terrorists had been killed - when at least two other terrorists were alive.
The battle between security forces and the terrorists raged for another two days, and Singh's Twitter post became a symbol of the intelligence botch-up that marked the episode.
Photo credit: The Telegraph
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