I take this opportunity to welcome the Big Tent event of Google and the Activate Summit of the Guardian to my country. I am sure the discussions in this forum would give a new direction to the meaningful use of technology for society at large.
Friends, Alvin Tofler said, “The Illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” This applies to everyone and every field, but more so to politics and the political class.
The crux of politics lies in connecting to the people.
If one looks back over the years, politicians readily adopted technology that connected them to the people better. From the simple pen and paper - to microphones and public address systems. From motion pictures – to the era of Television.
All these tools have been extensively used for political purposes since their respective introductions. They have greatly influenced politics, and in turn been greatly shaped by it as well. Overtime, they have become synonymous with politics.
Today’s web-connected world has brought about another paradigm shift with the Internet. This is not just impacting politics, but is in a sense fundamentally redefining it.
Earlier technological evolutions helped the politicians more. They could take advantage of new means and dimensions. Information technology has led to empowerment of people as well – each and every one of us!
This is very important for a large democracy like India. I have been saying IT + IT = IT : Indian Talent + Information technology = India Tomorrow.
Information in the pre-internet era was more one-dimensional. It was limited to politicians bombarding their thoughts and views on citizens.
Now it is a two way process. Citizens are empowered with wide access to information – from multiple channels.
This information moreover, is real time and updated.
Importantly, these informed citizens also have avenues of voicing their opinion and influencing policy. Citizens now have a direct say!
In India earlier, a citizen’s connect to politics was limited to once in every five years - from one election to another.
Now, he engages with, and is a part of the polity every moment! He shares information, raises questions, comments, and connects with others. He voices his opinion and gives his feedback.
The internet has therefore truly empowered the citizen. It has forced the politician to perform, not just promise. In a way, it has become a challenge for the political class.
The time has come for the political class to adapt to this change and reinvent itself! It needs to stop running away. It needs to embrace the internet’s many powerful facets. The political class needs to stop seeing technology as a problem creator, and start harnessing it in the right spirit.
Friends! As a politician, I use technology extensively – from the simple to the cutting edge.
In the 2012 elections I pioneered the using of 3D Holographic technology to reach out to multiple geographies. I addressed voters at 53 places across the state all at once. This unique concept not only helped me reach out to more geographies and voters, but also helped reduce the cost, time and energy required.
At a personal level I interact with lakhs of my fellow countrymen and women through social media.
I share my thoughts with them, as well as listen and learn from them.
I understand their concerns as well as connect with their dreams and aspirations.
Friends, the internet has become the new public sphere. Former President Clinton aptly called it the new town square. In this age of internet democracy, citizens are netizens, who transcend the geographical borders of countries and continents. No wonder it is called the Wired Republic.
Today, technology has merged politics with governance. They cannot be separated as the focus of the public sphere is on accountability, and transparency. Good governance is the key political agenda now, be it in the developed or developing world. Internet, new communication media and digital convergence have been major drivers of this.
The internet has been a game changer in the realm of information-based decision making.
It has transformed the policy making process. It has ushered in an age of direct democracy - where the common citizen directly engages in the policy making process and affects the policy outcomes, rather than being limited to doing so through his elected representative.
I would like to give you a few examples from my Gujarat experience.
Listening to people’s voice is a very important element in democracy. To ensure this we use ICT for redressing grievances. I personally host SWAGAT sessions in my office.
The unique aspect of this project is that the grievance of the common man is addressed in real time. Solutions are provided online to him immediately. It also acts as a feedback mechanism. We modify policies and systems based on repeated grievances.
Our efforts have been applauded by the UN, receiving the UN Public Service Award in 2010 for 'Improving Transparency, Accountability and Responsiveness in Public Service'.
Gujarat is strategically using satellite mapping for better decision making. We have institutionalised this in the form of BISAG - Bhaskaracharya Institute for Space Applications and Geo-Informatics.
We use this technology extensively - from our most modern, large scale projects like building Special Investment Regions and smart cities … to giving rights of forest land to tribals.
Earlier, when politicians used to lobby for infrastructure like schools and hospitals in their constituencies, we did not have any scientific method of deciding the allocations. Today, we map the demography, the need and the availability using GIS. We thus bring parity among the local communities. This has also given a new direction to local politics.
Gujarat is the first state to apply GIS to fully plan, implement and monitor its watershed management.
Friends! Resurvey of lands is very important for better land management and ensuring less disputes. It is required to be done every 30 years. Unfortunately, this has not happened in the last 100 years in India. Gujarat has undertaken resurvey of lands using state of the art technology - Differential Global Positioning System and Electronic Total Station Machines.
Further, our e-Gram Vishvagram project connects all the district, taluka and village panchayats across the state with broadband. This enables video conferencing facilities at all villages, issuing of documents and certificates and a host of other e-services.
We use simple technology in disaster management services. Merely sending timely SMSs to citizens during the 2006 floods ensured that not a single life was lost in spite of heavy rains and flooding.
Friends! Voting is the bloodline of the political process in a democratic polity.
India’s Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) have simplified voting and counting - making it easy and fast.
In Gujarat, we have graduated from EVM voting to eVoting - launching on a pilot scale in Municipal elections. Our pioneering efforts have been acknowledged with many awards including the National award for excellence in government process reengineering.
Advanced technology is rapidly transforming the government-citizen relationship. Social media in particular, provides a great platform for the government to engage with citizens.
To give you an example, when we organised the Sabarmati Riverfront Photography Competition on social media, several thousands participated. Amateurs as well as professionals sent entries in large numbers. The competition reached out to more than two hundred thousand (2,00,000) citizens and helped increase the popularity of the riverfront in a manner no paid ad campaign could have.
I find it extremely interesting to see how Netizens have evolved their own language and dictionary of words. Here neither the spelling nor the grammar matters. 140 characters can convey it all.
This dimension also plays a very important role in empowerment. It gives people from different parts of the world the confidence to overcome their limitations in language. It enables them to go ahead to freely express and connect.
In conclusion, let me say that technology in itself is neither good nor bad. That depends on how it is harnessed.
While ‘Technology in Politics’ plays a crucial role … it would do us great good to stay away from letting ‘Politics into Technology’!
Deployed in the right way, technology can be an extremely powerful force, capable of bringing about great change! The challenge is how better we can connect the common man to this WWW world. We need to find solutions by which he can connect in his local language. We must focus our technological policies and innovations on the greater good – empowering people and nurturing a development-based agenda.