Tuesday, 6 May 2008

E-Democracy in India

Elections used to be such a messy affair in the old days in India. The special ink they used to mark the index finger of the voter could stain your clothes. Some people found ways of getting the ink of their fingers and voted multiple times. 

Political parties would bring truckloads of people to vote for their chosen candidates. There would be mass rallies, spontaneous fighting or ‘hungama’ as it’s called in India. But still democracy functioned. 

In 1977 the ordinary Indian people voted the despotic Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who had declared emergency and ruled by decree, out of power. She eventually was sentenced to prison, and then brought back by a landslide majority at the elections resulting in more 'hungama'. Electronic voting has changed much of this. 

Photo source:

Democracy has Ancient Roots in India

Athenian democracy from around 510 B.C is well-known but there was democracy in other places also in those days.

Photo source:

Democracy is not new in India. Sudhodhana, the father of Buddha was a democratically elected king in the sixth century B.C. This fact is not known very much. 

Photo source:

Some people, especially from the USA, love to lecture that they are taking democracy everywhere and they don't spare Indians either. They don't like being told back that malfunctions in their own ballot system brought a president widely acknowledged to be the worst to power. Unknown to them and also to most of the world the largest democracy in the world is also a functioning E-Democracy.

How is E-Democracy Different?
What now is an E-democracy? 

The term originates from the combination of the words ’electronic’ and ’democracy’. It usually means the usage of electronic facilities such as the Internet for implementing democratic processes like voting in a republic or representative democracy. The term digital democracy is also used for e-democracy. There is even an institute e-Democracy Centre, dedicated to studying e-democracy.  The centre is based at the newly founded Zentrum für Demokratie Aarau (centre for Democracy at Aarau) at the University of Zürich

Electronic voting has been successfully used in countries like Estonia, Brazil, India, Ireland, and the United States. The second aspect of a functioning democracy, i.e., citizens providing checks and balances for the functioning of the elected representatives by electronic means - it remains to be seen how Indians are able to achieve that.

Technology is the enabler and not the solution

Photo source:

The central challenge is to integrate new technological means with traditional or "offline" methods of access to information as well as channels of consulting and engaging the public in policy-making decisions. 

Quantity does not mean quality so the standards must be kept high. Probably the biggest barrier to engaging people successfully in online engagement of policy-making is not technological but rather cultural, organisational and a mindset issue. Richard E. Sclove makes this point  in "Democracy and Technology" - "The technologies we use are the results of human choices and not the product of forces beyond human control." 


Neelam said...

During my travels abroad I was have come across many people who say that India is not a democracy and western nations can teach democracy to India. Very interesting post.

Rana Sinha said...

Thanks Neelam for your comment. India is a democracy and hopefully will remain one no matter what some people say.

Paddy said...

I second that Neelam. Its apparent India is a democracy but when checks and balances are built into the system with loopholes, the very purpose of democracy sounds defeated. And if right education is to be showered on the masses (which India is not good at, going from the way the SSA is implemented)indeed, western nations could teach a thing or two to india. One of the things they could teach India is not to listen to their own hegemony in the UN when a global crisis pushes small developing nations into selling their wretched futures.

For starters when the appalling stench of human faeces from paddy fields across U.P. and railway stations in India that one experiences while travelling across India becomes history someday then and only then will I be convinced that India will change.