Picking up the thread from my last post, it seems , Indian politicians do see the tremendous power of the Internet but only for self-propaganda. That would explain the huge amount of money they spend on social media campaigns but not an iota of grey matter to think how the same technology can be leveraged for strengthening the democracy. It reflects the attitude of the political class of viewing the electorate as subjects to be ruled, herded through carrot and sticks and not as the collective sovereign they are part of and represent. Even when information sharing becomes imperative, it is done in a manner so as to make its consumption, a bland and difficult experience. Visit any government website and you are likely to find the interface incredibly outdated. It almost reminds you of rows of somber looking, bespectacled babus tapping keyboards monotonously, almost like the machine they are staring into.
However, the websites exist, exist like numerous contradictions that make India unique. Another example would be the $35 tablet Aakash that the Ministry of Human Resource Development promoted and got global fame, even if there have been hiccups. But at the same time the ministry's websites itself isn't mobile compatible. As a matter of fact, for the first time, in 15 years, I have come across a website that restricts others from linking to it ! The National Portal of India website is quite upto the mark and does encourage linking and solicits feedback (I don't think they would like this feedback :p) but ironically links from it to detail information on e-governance either returns "page not found" status or a security alert by Firefox (the reason could be that the pages have been moved from National E-Governance Plan to Initiatives but the links have not been updated).
Now is e-governance the same as Gov 2.0 ?I don't think so. E-governance is about using the electronic medium to extend governance, typically governamental stuff, a one-way route. Gov 2.0 concept is about participation of private players, innovation not authority should determine the course of action. Transparency and access to information the poorest as well as those living in the remotest corner of the country should be the first step forward. Smart phones, tablets, Internet may seem luxury items used mainly by the urban middle class and higher, but the same applied to mobile phones too, Initially, the mobile phone was a rich person's accessory, gradually the middle class adopted it but it was only after those in lowest rung started using mobile phones that a change in livelihood, lifestyle and outlook came to be perceived. Ironically, despites its numerous advantages cell phones were and are cheaper, require less resources, investment and even effort in procuring one. Similarly, providing Internet enabled devices and providing coverage in remote areas can much cheaper if done in the proper manner. If EVM can be taken to the remotest part of the country, kiosks offering other information can also be installed to provide better access to people.
Further, the major milestones in the history of technology have always been invention of newer means of transport and communication. The ark, wheel, papyrus, Gutenberg printing,railroads and metalled roads, the telephone and the Internet, gave mankind the power to take quantum leaps, every time covering several times more ground than before but spending much lesser. Perhaps the government should prioritize extending Internet accessibility even the remotest corner of the country and wait upon instead of concentrating on e-governance initiatives. In instances such as soliciting bidding from contractors online has been great tool in fighting against corruption. But devoting money and resources for certain public welfare measures, using the Internet, it could let the new breed of social entrepreneur do it. Concern for security of data shared, is futile as long as those very data are available as public data in hard copy or is dynamically served on web. During the ongoing election in India the web is being used for endorsement only. I haven't come across any information specifically related to leveraging Internet to help the poor and marginalized communities, instead what comes across chest-thumping, back-patting and appealing for votes.
In my earlier post I wrote about Election Commission of India's bid to tie up with Google and how the idea was crushed by politicians. True India based-companies may be given priority when outsourcing such projects but is there a single Indian company which has a user-base that is even remotely close to Google, Facebook or Twitter ? Even a cursory glance at Google Civic should reveal the fact that there is no scope of secretive or partisanship in the proposed services. It is aimed solely at empowering voters and even leaders as long as they are for the people's benefit. Check this out.