It is election time here in India, and there is not a dull moment on TV-–shoes are being hurled at some politician or the other; candidates are making offensive speeches and remarks, and there is always news about how many fake voter ID cards are being found in various constituencies. The great Indian political circus is in full swing.
What's truly appalling is the fact that despite being the so-called "IT superpower", we haven't done enough to ensure that elections in the country are free and fair.
The need to ensure free and fair elections is vital to democracy. Over the last few decades, corruption has made the middle-class cynical. As a result, many educated citizens don't vote. They are disillusioned with the political system and have no desire to know their political leaders. But this time, several corporate houses, NGOs and media groups are running campaigns to spread awareness and get citizens to exercise their right to vote.
The government has been talking about a Multipurpose National Identity Card (MNIC) since 2002. MNIC is a national ID card (that will be given to every Indian citizen) that seeks to fulfill objectives of increasing national security, managing citizen identity and facilitating e-government services. But not much progress has taken place in this area.
In November last year, the government finally issued a notification approving the establishment of a National Authority for Unique Identity (NAUID) under the Planning Commission. The MNIC project is now integrated with the NAUID project. As per a government release, the MNIC will obviate need for multiple documentary evidence, facilitate easy verification, facilitate ease in availing government or private services, help welfare programs reach intended beneficiaries and serve as a basis for e-government services.
The government hopes to provide each citizen with a unique ID by 2012. But we all know how the system works--a lot of time will lapse between one notification and another, and there is bound to be ample debate on the subject before the project actually sees light of day.
These elections, in my view, are rather critical. Bad governance at the Centre can take us back by many years. And that's why it's critical to work toward the MNIC, so that the next general elections (at least) are "more" free and fair.
In this day and age, creating a central data of all citizens should not be that difficult. If there was sufficient political will, we would have acquired an MNIC by now. There are several Indian IT companies that have been lauded for their work in the area of e-government in other nations. Given a chance, I am sure they would do a better job in their home country.
With time, technology is bound to play a much larger role in a democracy. Mobile telephony has already penetrated the remotest of villages in the country. With the advent of technologies like IPTV, 3G and WiMax, broadband too will reach the villages.
I was reading an article recently about how voting by mobile devices could become a reality by 2012. Mobile voting was number one in a list of five mobile messaging predictions recently released by VeriSign's messaging and mobile media division.
Used correctly, the mobile phone has enormous potential. Telecom operator Idea Cellular has some interesting advertisements that showcase the power of mobile telephony in areas like e-governance and e-education.
In fact, technology can help the country do away with corruption and red-tape. Unfortunately, that's what our politicians seem to fear the most. But, I also feel that they cannot stop the advent of technology.
Just as companies were forced to adopt IT solutions to improve efficiencies, sooner or later, the country will also feel the same need. An emerging economy and a "potential super power" surely can't do with another five years of corruption and political lethargy.