From e-governance to m-governance

At one time, there was a general impression that India had been lagging behind because it missed the Industrial Revolution. After a couple of centuries later, it looks Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to make up for what India had missed with digital revolution. During his whirlwind tour of Silicon Valley on Saturday and Sunday, Modi has impressed the biggies of digital world with his techno rhetoric and the need to connect 1.25 billion people under Digital India initiative.

He is the first head of government in this country to realize the vast potential of digital technology that can be harnessed to leapfrog the country into 21st century. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise when we hear Modi telling California-based IT titans that the vision of Digital India is to transform the country in such a way as to touch the lives of people in every walk of life and change the way the nation will live and work.

The Prime Minister promised to “transform governance, making it more transparent, accountable, accessible and participative” and spoke of taking the country a notch higher from e-governance to m-governance. He said: “I spoke of e-governance as a foundation of better governance — efficient, economical and effective. I now speak of m-governance or mobile governance. That is the way to go in a country with one billion cell phones and use of smart phones growing at high double digit rates.”

What can be sketched out from Modi’s address to the IT giants at San Jose dinner meet on Saturday night is, to speed up paperless transactions; bridge the digital divide; promote digital literacy; accelerate broadband usage; expand fiber optical network to penetrate all rural and remote areas; set up Common Service Centres in all villages and towns and turn them into smart economic hubs with the active participation of local farmers and to give top priority to data privacy and security, intellectual property rights and cyber security. His other plans include digital locker for every citizen to store personal documents that could be shared across departments during official transactions, setting up of e-business portals, among others.

Modi has extended an open invitation to American czars of IT industry saying, “From creating infrastructure to services, from manufacture of products to human resource development, from support governments to enabling citizens and promoting digital literacy, Digital India is a vast cyber world of opportunities for you.”

The preliminary response to his call is immediate. Google, headed by Sundar Pichai, has promised to introduce Wi-Fi in 500 railway stations while Satya Nadella of Microsoft pledged to help the government to take low cost broadband to 500,000 villages and revealed plans to make available cloud services operating out of Indian data centres. Jumping onto the bandwagon, Qualcomm has promised to set up a number of ‘design houses’ for product innovation and Rs 10 billion fund for startups in India.

With so many promises and assurances pouring in for the Prime Minister’s “Make in India and Digital India” initiatives, the hard part of the task is how to make digital dreams spun by Modi come true.

Visualize an India where you need not go to office for work but do it from home at your own pace; you need not visit a grocery or a shopping mall for your daily/weekly/festival purchases but order them online; call a taxi, book a film show, talk to your doctor and get your ailment diagnosed and medicines delivered, all by simple touches on your smart phone screen. In rural areas, farmers can monitor and share commodities’ prices and decide when to sell their produce; get weather warnings from Met department; advice from agricultural development officers; seek guidance from them on crop yields, pests; and housewives can exchange info ranging from health to cooking tips. The opportunities and possibilities a digitalized and networked country presents to its citizens are limitless.

To create such an atmosphere, it is imperative people must first come over resistance to change and adopt latest technologies. More important is, rhetoric should translate into action that should be followed up with necessary inputs to make the programmes successful.

The Silicon Valley and Americans are all upbeat about Modi who is seen as a leader out to transform India. Their optimism is not misplaced. But India’s greatest challenge now is matching words with deeds at various levels of officialdom. Bridging the gulf between the young and graying population is more difficult than digitalizing and networking India.

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