Blog Past: Technology and the Indian Elections

With the Indian elections less than three months away, here is a look at what I wrote before the previous general election five years ago (in March 2004). The following is an excerpt from the section on Governance:

Every elected representative should be mandated to keep an updated website which provides continued coverage of the activities being done. It should be possible to map promises and action. A discussion area in every constituency website should provide a forum for the local citizens to air their comments and problems. The Internet can thus work as a two-way information bridge between the government and the citizens. This will create for more meaningful and responsible governance.

At a bigger level, citizens should also be invited to air their comments on policy. Occasionally, different government departments do put up discussion papers for comments. In most cases, it is hard to find out about these unless one closely tracks the websites. This is where wikis, weblogs and RSS can make a big difference: wikis can provide a forum for discussion, weblogs can provide information on the updates for each of the government departments, and RSS can ensure that these updates are available for syndication to interested citizens. By standardizing how each government department disseminates information, it will become easier for citizens to find out what is happening and then be able to contribute back in their fields of expertise. If India needs to leap forward, it needs to harness the collective intelligence of its people – a publish-subscribe framework ensures just that.

Every government department should also be asked to publish its statement of accounts online, with a capability to drill down into the numbers. Supporting vouchers should be scanned and available electronically for examination. Let our accountants then go through these and point out discrepancies if any. This is one way to ensure that funds get used for what they are supposed to be. No single entity may be able to go through all of the details, but as a community few errors will escape the group. This idea borrows from open-source software: by publishing the source and using the eyes of the developers community, there are few bugs which are left unattended to in the software.

10 thoughts on “Blog Past: Technology and the Indian Elections

  1. Pingback: Blog Past: Technology and the Indian Elections | Shablogs

  2. Rajesh – The idea in your post is good but I think it will never happen in practice for good time. How can the ones who do not want to be transparent be made to do all these activities?

    There needs to be other agency doing this work of extracting information. It could be like a regulator whose job is to get all information of these government departments and publish them.
    On other Utopian thoughts if departments like companies start declaring their quarterly results then it will be great!


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  4. dear rajesh,

    You are rightly anguished that civil society in India thinks very little about affairs of public importance. Even I dont…

    One of the major problems, (let us stick to educated civil society for now), is the distance from having an opinion to having it heard and acted upon. In most cases the distance is imagined and mental, but in some cases there is genuine apprehension too.

    Given the lows of politics and Indian politics in particular and the scum that inhabit it, irrespective of party affiliation, it could be really dangerous for a educated person to jump in.

    Your job therefore is clear, if you want to bridge the high of educated civil society and the lows of politics, you should create a mechanism that collects their voices even if anonymously and conveys them to the politic.

    If there is a channel that can avoid any chance of retribution and if such channels are easily available, people will talk. Our job is to create those channels using technology.

    Perhaps one way to encourage citizen participation is to use technology in a way that bypasses traditional media. You and your team may have better ideas, here is mine…

    The best way would be to ask people what they want, what their real world local problems are.

    The Net may not be a suitable medium for the masses, but yes a certain percentage of civil society would be interested in it. If you want unbiased coverage, you would need a mobile campaign perhaps by an NGO. This can really work given time and resources and work really well. Also you are an expert in this area that connects the net and the mobile…

    Can we do a areawise collection of this data and convey this information to the candidates and the parties. And hold TV or Net spots on how each candidate would address these local issues?There are already citizen reporters on the prowl and you could use them profitably.

    This information when widely disseminated will shift the focus from personality based politics to issue based politics, afterall, you can ask where the candidate stands, when local issues are being debated, local people actually listen in. And slowly but surely they will be drawn into real debate and from then on to real politics.

    Rather than tirades for and against Advani or Sonia, which are entertaining but essentially useless, you will help provide a paradigm shift in the Indian polity. Clinton won elections by focucing on issues, and Obama did so recently, there is no reason why it should not work in India and on a local scale….

    Such a programme is easy to imagine but difficult to implement and quickly, as you said we have less than a hundred days.

    Perhaps not this time, but a start can be made…

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  7. A very futuristic and apt posting Rajesh! Infact just having a website and using banner ads to ask for vote is not enough. As you rightly imply- citizens need to be listened to, engaged and empowered-through the use of technology and digital medium. I have written a post (alongwith a free downloadable presentation) on How and why digital medium can be used by Indian Politicians (of course the inspiration is obama- but this post is very local and strategic in nature) @

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