TECH TALK: Technology and the Indian Elections: Governance

Following the declaration of the results will come the task of government formation. The days immediately following the counting will be filled with suspense in the event that no single party gets a majority. (From the way it looks right now, India is in for a continuing era of coalition politics.) Once the new government in installed, technology can continue to play an active role in maintaining the link between those in power and those who elected them. So far, in India, the tendency has been that after voting, we rarely hear from the elected representative until the next election. There is little we know of the work done (or not done) by the victors. This is where the Internet can play a positive role. Think of it as continuous assessment, rather than a board exam every five years!

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.

Tomorrow: Beyond 2004

TECH TALK Technology and the Indian Elections+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.