Politicians must stop running away from the Internet: Modi

Last Updated: Thu, Mar 21, 2013 15:50 hrs

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi spoke at the Google Big Tent Summit today, highlighting the role that the Internet and technology is playing in transforming government and democracy. Here is the full text of his speech  - 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

I take this opportunity to welcome the Big Tent event of Google and the Active Summit of the Guardian to my country. I am sure the discussions in this forum will give a new direction to the meaningful use of technology for society at large. 

Friends, Alvin Toffler said the illiterate of the 21st century would not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

This applies to everyone and in 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 microphone and public address systems. From motion pictures to the era of television. All of these tools have been extensively used by for political purposes since their respective introductions. 

They have greatly influenced politics and in turn been greatly shaped by it as well. Over time they have become synonymous with politics. Today the web-connected world has bought about another partnership with the Internet. This is not just impacting politics. But it is fundamentally redefining it. 

Earlier technological innovations helped politicians more. Information Technology has led to empowerment of people as well as each and every one of us. This is very important for a large democracy like India. 

To my mind 'IT plus IT is equal to IT', i.e 'Indian Talent plus Information Technology is equal to India Tomorrow'

Information in the pre-internet era was more one-dimensional. It was limited to politicians bombarding their thoughts and views on citizens. But now it is a two way process. Citizens are empowered with wide access to information from multiple channels. This information is moreover in real time and updated. Importantly, these informed citizens also have an avenue to voice their opinions and influence policy. 

Citizens now have a direct say thanks to technology. In India earlier a citizen's connect to politics was limited to once in five years, from one election to another. Now he engages with, and is a part of, the polity at 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 politicians 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 instead harness it with the right sprit. 

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 country men 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 US 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 outcome 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 the people's voice is a very important element in any democracy. To ensure this we used ICT for redressing grievances. I personally host 'swaghat' 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 policy and systems based on repeated grievances. Our efforts have been applauded by the United Nations, 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 institutionalized through the Bhaskaracharya Institute for Space Application and geoInformatics. We used this technology extensively. From our most modal large-scale projects  - like building Special Investment Regions and smart cities - to giving right of forestland to tribals. 

Earlier when politicians used to lobby for infrastructures 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. This brings 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 water management. And because of that today, in Gujarat, our water table comes up and up. 

Friends, these surveys of lands are very important for better land management and ensuring fewer disputes. It is required to be done every thirty years. Unfortunately this has not happened in the last 100 years in India. Unfortunately after 1930 nothing has happened in our country. Gujarat has undertaken surveys of the land using state of the art technologies - Differential global positioning system and electronic total station machines. 

Further our E-Vishwagram project connects all the districts, taluk and village panchayats across the state with broadband Internet. This allows for video conferencing technologies at all villages, issuing of documents and certificates and a host of other e-services. 

We use simple technologies in disaster management services as well. Merely sending timely SMS's to the 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 democracy. India's electronic voting machines have simplified voting and counting, making it easy and fast. 

In Gujarat we have graduated from EVM voting to E-Voting. 

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 processing reengineering. 

Advanced technology is rapidly transforming the government-citizen relationship. Social media in particular provides a great platform for the government with citizens. 

To give you an example, when we organized the Sabarmati riverfront photography competition on social medias, several thousand participated. Amateurs as well as professionals sent across entries in large numbers. The competition reached out to more that 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 enabled them to go ahead and freely express and connect. 

In conclusion let me say that technology in itself is neither good nor bad. It depends on how it is harnessed. While technology in politics plays a crucial role, it would do us a great good to stay away from letting politics in 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 through 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. 

Thank you very much.

Watch the Speech - 

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