India today stands on the threshold of a golden era. But to make the dreams of a glorious tomorrow come true will require that we all actively participate in building the New India. The key is to get more involvement from the citizens at whatever level they can participate. Technology should provide the platform for interaction. For the first time, technology provides a platform to bridge geography and other barriers. What is needed is the will and vision to do it.
The use of technology during the national elections should be just the start. The same ideas should be extended to governance at multiple levels the state, civic and panchayat bodies should also follow a similar process. This, more than anything, will ensure transparent, honest and result-oriented governance.
To take the benefits of technology beyond the limited urban populace which uses computers, it is necessary to build out Indias digital infrastructure not between two generations, but between two elections. The period between 2004 and 2009 should see Indias computer base grow from 10 to 100 million across schools, colleges, homes, SMEs, rural hubs and government. To make this happen, it will be important to bring down the total cost of ownership (including hardware, software, connectivity and support) of a networked computing device to Rs 200-800 per month per person (or per family). Wired and wireless broadband networks need to blanket the country. Content and applications need to be made available so that individuals and businesses can become productive. Thus, technology should be used to modernise India in the next five years.
The challenges in India are many. We get excited with the potential of India becoming the back-office of the world. All said and done, this entire sector will employ a few million people. There are tens of millions of children in Indian who do not have access to proper education, there are still a few hundred million Indians who are illiterate. There are millions of Indian businesses rooted in the past. This is where technology has the potential to work its miracles. The use of technology in the elections offers the stepping stone to re-make India.
Thus, there is an opportunity for politics to lead business in the adoption of new technologies. While cellphones and computers are likely to be used in plenty, the ability to network them and join the islands of information can create a better-informed electorate. Indias democracy is its strength. The elections can be a beachhead for showcasing what technology can do. They will also give a huge fillip to local entrepreneurs.
In the 2004 elections, it is unlikely that the benefits of the technology will be available to everyone. But it is a start. By the time the next elections come, India would have a much deeper penetration of technology and also have enough learning to extend the use beyond the urban areas into the rural areas also. That would then form the basis of an e-India and a genuinely democratic government, with governance truly being of the people, for the people and by the people.