Connecting India: Why Elections Need The WebApril 18th, 2009 — Chris Van Buren
With over 700 million voters, India is the world’s largest democracy. Naturally, electoral fraud is a frequent problem. But social media may be changing that bleak picture. Guarav Mishra, a current Yahoo! Fellow and co-founder of Vote Report India, has been working to ensure fair (or fairer) elections, not by relying on international observers, but by appealing to the strength of India’s “digital” civil society.
How does civil society go “digital”? By adapting social networking technology and blogs to important civic aims like transparency, clean electoral practices and democratic legitimacy. Web-savvy young Indians — jolted into democratic participation some say by the horrific Mumbai terrorists attacks (see my coverage here) — are versatile with web 2.0 media, Twitter and, of course, SMS. Mishra’s Vote Report India, for example, builds a dynamic map (a la Al-Jazeera’s Gaza coverage) based on user-submitted reports of electoral abuse. Users can upload this data in a variety of ways:
Despite India’s bewildering diversity of languages, customs and religions, technology is building a bridge to more robust civil society. I am heartened by the cacophanous and lively blogospheric debates about the elections, which now compete with the Indian MSM and party propaganda machines for attention (see Guarav’s round-up here).
The toleration of dissent and the encouragement of debate is key to democratic functioning, and so it’s also remarkable that these discussions include the voice of India’s Muslim minority and in broader contexts the vigorous debate over Varun Ghandi’s comments. Things aren’t perfect (see this recent Atlantic piece about the BJP in Gujarat), but blogs, SMS and Twitter are strengthening India’s democratic pulse.