A database is a calm and steady tool for democratic politics

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Geetanjali Minhas | June 10, 2014



Promises made by political candidates before the elections serve as barometers of their performance. When the electorate puts faith in a candidate, it should also demand accountability for the performance. Reminding the winning candidates of their promises and holding them responsible for the abdication of duty is the sign of a vibrant democracy. Even though political parties have their manifestoes, none exist for the individual candidates.

“Corruption has been a part of our lives, but it was never central to the way we looked at things,” says Govindraj Ethiraj, a former journalist  and the editor of Indiaspend, country’s first data journalism initiative that utilizes open data to analyse issues with the broader objective of fostering better governance, transparency and accountability.

“The Anna movement brought people out in the open, galvanised the youth; social media was used powerfully. Another outcome was that   people were driven by intense emotion: thousands participated in rallies where otherwise they are paid to come.”

“We realised something was missing and that was data. For example if issues like  education, health, infrastructure and women’s safety are our concerns, are we asking for solutions on emotional grounds or are we relying and basing them on data to ask the right questions?” As citizens become a part of the governance process, critical data will help them take objective views on important policies and foster data-led discussion and analysis.

Ethiraj cites the example of healthcare: “Healthcare is available in the country; the problem is most of it is privately run and there is not enough government investment in the sector: shortage of doctors in the primary healthcare centres is a key problem. People may get emotional and ask for removing of the health minister etc., but a data-based approach would point out to the shortage of doctors. This is because of the dearth of medical colleges in the country which are controlled by the Medical Council of India. As you go deeper and look at data and evidence, arguments become more reasoned”.

“It is a common belief that Delhi is the rape capital of the country whereas, proportionately speaking, even a small town like Jabalpur has more reported cases of rape than Delhi. That every woman stepping out is in danger of being molested is a common perception but the fact is that 78 percent rapes are perpetrated by a person known to the victim. It is not a policing problem; you cannot put the entire blame on the law and order situation.”

It is for issues such as these that Indiaspend was launched. The agency creates database for record and sets the basis for accountability. With an average of six-seven reports per week it carries out visualisation of data.

MeraNeta, an initiative of Indiaspend, is a candidate outreach programme initiated to create a database of promises made by the candidates. The idea here was to take data and democratise it so that people understand and demand accountability from the candidates contesting the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. MeraNeta video shoots started in March 2014 after election dates were announced.

The candidates can be seen on camera answering questions such as: Why are you standing for elections? How will you ensure electricity and roads for all? How will you address women’s issues? One thing about you the voters may not know? “So far more than 860 candidates have been put on camera. For the next five years you can pick this up, remind the person and hold him/her accountable: this is what you said in March 2014. How much have you achieved?” he asks.

Candidates are being added every day. With elections over, work now resumes with winning candidates speaking about their promises that will hold them accountable over the next five years. The agency has done six reports on Odisha, dealing with different social and economic indicators. “Just as we would want to study the balance-sheet of Reliance Industries we may want to study the same of the government of Maharashtra,” Ethiraj says.
 

 

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