As a student of management, I learn (or try to) the rather beguiling art and science of how to be in charge of, or ‘manage’ things. It is a rather curious subject really, this thing we call management. In fact, we are all self-professed experts on the subject, especially out here in India. We all think that we can manage everything, but can we really? Can we really manage a country of over 1.2 billion people, with an uncountable number of disparate sensibilities? Can we really manage all that? Well, one man thinks he can. That man is none other than Narendra Modi.
Mr. Modi is trying to do things differently, and to be more specific, efficiently. That word is music to a manager’s ears. Efficiency. And one of the main factors that is steering him towards the Holy Grail of change, is the fact that he believes in the power of technology.
Now why is that so important? Well, despite the reach of technology, it’s taken a while for it to actually pervade into the arena of the Indian government. Up until the 80s, the way our government functioned was rather primitive, to say the least. Computers had been invented a while before that but they took their own sweet time coming to India. Government machinery ran on the backs of pen, paper, and an army of sleepy clerks.
And then come 1991, we opened our doors to the world with the new LPG policy, and inadvertently ended up ushering in a lot of unexpected but much-needed change. We now had the divine tool of ‘computing’ in our hands. Since then, there has been no looking back.
So, where do we begin?
With elections, of course! Elections are one of the most vital phenomena in a democratic country like India. And it is important that they must be held fairly and efficiently. Now that gets a little difficult to do when you’re relying only on humans. It is human nature to be lethargic, erroneous, and even dishonest. This can obviously result in huge problems in an election. So what do you do? You automatize everything, or atleast whatever you can. In fact, to a large extent we already have. We now have electronic voting machines, or EVMS, which dramatically reduce the human interface. This makes the system a lot more reliable. Vote counting has also become a lot easier and the manpower employed in the process is considerably lesser.
But one thing that EVMs don’t account for is the possibility of vote-rigging though impersonation of identity. Furthermore, sometimes the machines themselves are rigged and multiple votes are cast in the same name. To deter such practices, we can introduce an electronic card that acts as a unique identification card and can be swiped at the EVM to register a voter. Once swiped, the machine can be programmed to not accept more votes in that name.
This system can be implemented by clubbing it with pre-existing system of Aadhar cards. The Aadhar cards have been a huge breakthrough. The Unique Identification Authority of India maintains a database of residents containing biometric and other data, like a retina scan. As of now, less than 50% of the populace has Aadhar cards but as more and more people realize the importance of having an identification mark that cannot be duplicated, its reach will spread. This will have a number of positive impacts as it will strengthen the country’s security levels and it will also deter people from using fake identification in order to be privy to government privileges, which is a rampant practice in India so far.
Technology is also a useful tool to monito the country’s progress. 30 years ago, if you wanted to know the change in agricultural productivity in a particular village in Bihar, you would have to go to the particular village in Bihar. With the advent of satellite technology, we now have aerial mapping which makes physical inspection in most cases redundant. You can keep a track of the data and compare it over time, and even across different places. Computers also help the government to forecast the requirements for forthcoming years so that it can take more rational decision about financial policies.
Now for the last 5o years or so, technology was just one thing – a lot of automation. But the inflection point we’ve seen in the last 8 to 10 years has shown us that there’s a lot more. It makes us mobile, it’s social and connected; it’s much more analytic than it’s ever been before. That’s what we’re talking about: the new story of technology. We’re not just automating processes anymore; we’re completely enabling whole new ways to work and to make decision than we ever did before.
So how does that happen exactly?
Well, for starters, technology has changed the way we see communication. You no longer have to go up to some dusty government office to file your papers or seek a clarification. You can simply do it online. Government communication is seeing an interesting dichotomy, wherein it’s becoming more automated, but also more interactive in the process. The fact that citizens can now communicate with the government online is bringing in a lot of people into the dialogue, who have so far been out of the ambit of government penetration, whether by choice, as in the case of the young, urban populace, or simply because they were out of the physical reach of the government, as in the case of a lot of rural pockets. With technological advancements in communication, a farmer in even the most obscure village of India can get access to the government’s announcements on his phone and I think that’s great.
One of the things we’re seeing with the increased use of technology is mobility-the idea that you don’t have to be connected to your desk or office anymore. We see that mostly in business spheres so far and it would be a healthy change if the government could also incorporate that. We live in a world where every second its precious and physical presence is often avoidable. The government needs to recognize the huge opportunity that lies hidden there. By cutting down on physical presence, they will be cutting down on the expenditure of public funds, they will be cutting down on time and they will also be making the government machinery faster and smoother.
And then there is the big daddy of digital technology- analytics. People are really starting to mine data now and make smarter decisions – you can get much more granular now. The government would do well to recognize what a huge repository of information they have if they learn to really exploit
technology and the internet to their fullest extent. A lot of bad policy decisions are made when the information that the government has is not comprehensive or well-rounded. If technology is employed in the right way, estimates can be more accurate, leading to less superfluous expenditure. The government can garner the right kind of information in the right way to take the right decisions.
Last of all, one of the many gifts that technology has given us, is social media. And Mr. Narendra Modi has been one of the first politicians to realize the immense potency of this weapon of mass propaganda. His election campaign relied largely on interacting with the citizens on social media platforms. In fact, about a week before the election the newspapers were awash with reports of how he used technology to project a larger than life 3-D image of himself in front of a crowd of thousands. That’s real campaigning. That’s called realizing the power of technology. The government would do well to go the Modi way and understand that it can communicate with people in ways that you never imagined before.
Like Mr. Modi, each of us needs to realize the power of technology and steer a change in the way we see governance.
– Jasmine Kaur