This is a contributed article by Kavita Kukday.
Redmond, WA (Kavita Kukday): Let’s face it, voting for most of us, is matter of flipping a coin. Go to the ballot run through the list and pick the name that sounds the least offensive - that’s unfortunately the usual rigmarole during elections. But don’t get us wrong it’s not because of lack of will to do research it’s mainly because of lack of data accessible in the public forum on electoral candidates and parties. All our knowledge of the candidates until recently either came from news media, hearsay or the big banners and campaigns run by the candidates themselves. Needless to say most of those have been biased to a certain extent.
"Lack of information on candidates has always been a problem in India", says Vaibhav Bhandari one of the founders of the thekarkhana.com venture, "I remember how frustrated I used to be going to the ballot every year with absolutely no means of digging up the actual information of the candidates” Bhandari however, decided to do something constructive about the situation instead of idly complaining. He and four of his friends decided to harvest the internet wave of citizen journalism by starting a Wikipedia like website called Wise Voter (wisevoter.vitraag.com). The best part of having a Wiki like format is that it is an open knowledge store, which means anyone can contribute information about candidates or parties. So say a lawyer who actually witnessed a trial where a certain electoral candidate was involved might be able to give a full report which would not have been possible otherwise. This might help dig out the skeletons from the candidates past. But then again every good idea has to have a downside, the glitch with a Wiki format is that people can easily add misinformation on the website too. "Of course people will try to vandalize information, but then there will be tons others who will correct them and that way one should be able to get a balanced picture," added Bhandari.
And guess what Bhandari isn’t the only one making use of the power of the internet; citizen journalism seems to be on a roll. Another website called Vote Report (www.votereport.in) is putting this phenomenon to use, this is a venture managed by the NGO called eMoksha.org. Vote Report nicely aggregates direct reports from citizens’ networks, human rights organizations and juxtaposes them with reports from journalists, news, blogs, photos and tweets in one place on an interactive style map. The map interface gives you the best way to quickly pull up information specific to your constituency or state giving more meaningful insight to help you make the right choice.
Not to be left behind the election candidates themselves are using the social networks and blogs to tell their own story. BJP leader L K Advani for instance has his own Facebook page where fans are flocking to support their chosen leader. From the congress party you’d find leaders like Milind Deora and Shashi Tharoor utilizing their Facebook and Orkut pages to create awareness about their work. While the former Karnataka chief minister SM Krishna and Gujrat leader Narendra Modi and V K Malhotra have Twitter profiles which make use of the most alive viral communication medium on the Internet. Google has partnered with organizations that had already existing initiatives such as Association for Democratic Reform (ADR), Indicus Netlabs Pvt Ltd., Janaagraha Center for Citizenship and more to form a common online resource (www.google.co.in/loksabha2009) in both english and hindi. Similarly Yahoo (in.elections.yahoo.com) has a round up on their sites that tracks the election candidates. Then there are other ventures such as No Criminals (www.nocriminals.org/about_us.php), Voice of Nation (www.voiceofnation.com/forum/index.php), Gov Check (www.govcheck.com) and Bindass (www.bindass.tv/ichange).Although all these sites have a different spin to the information, they all basically have a similar gist of election info such as the basic data on all candidates and parties including information on age, constituency, assets, PAN etc.
Additionally (and more importantly!) these websites also give information on: statistical data about candidates involved in criminal cases and parties fielding criminal records, past track record (positions held, work done, promises fulfilled etc) and the candidate’s and his/her party’s position on key issues. Then there are also sites targeting another major area that prevents the actual democracy prevailing in India – the problem of educated voters not casting their votes. Sites like Jagore (www.jaagore.com/unregistered.php) are trying to reach out to this particular group of voters and asking them to pledge to cast their votes this time. All in all if the online statistics of these websites were to be believed, it looks we might actually see intelligent votes being cast during these elections. Jai Ho!