Cyber constituency: how parties woo the new middle class

A substantial part of Campaign 2014 will definitely be conducted in cyber space. Here is how the parties are preparing for it

bvrao

BV Rao | February 22, 2013


All ready to woo the cyber constituency
All ready to woo the cyber constituency

  I am a farmer in Sabarkantha district, Himmatnagar taluka. My village is Vaktapur. Will I be eligible for increase in subsidy for drip irrigation system because I am a small and poor farmer and can’t afford this new system?
    Alpesh Patel

    My father is a farmer and we have about five acres of land in Kareli and we live there. Now we want to install drip irrigation system in our farm so I want to know in depth about subsidy grant by the government. Please give contact number. My number is 096629064xx.
    Vaghela Nareshkumar Ganpatsinh, village Kareli, taluka Jambusar, district Bharuch

    I am a farmer of Panthawada (in Banaskantha) area. I want to install the new drip irrigation system in my farm and I want information regarding the subsidies and other loan systems provided by the Gujarat govt. So please reply as early as possible. My mobile no. is 099048059xx.
    Harikishan Desai

    I want to install the new drip irrigation system in my farm and I want information regarding the subsidies and other loan systems provided by state and Gujarat govt. So please reply as early as possible. My mobile no. is: 098339515xx.
    Dashrath Kakdiya, village Gadhula, district Bhavnagar

These are some of the requests that landed up in the comments section of a news item announcing the Gujarat government’s subsidy scheme for drip irrigation system. It was posted on our website almost three years ago in April 2010. From the first request by Alpesh Patel two months after posting the news to the latest by Dashrath Kakdiya just last week, we have been receiving these requests at regular intervals from farmers from different parts of Gujarat.

Each time a mail like this throws up in our system, we are hit by the unfolding reality of a new India; an India where the combined effect of improving literacy and exploding connectivity is turning old beliefs and assumptions upside down. As you can see, all the mails are from small farmers from interior villages of Gujarat, from people who we would assume would have less than functional literacy even in their mother tongue, forget English; people too poor and too isolated to even have an inkling of the new virtual world that has suddenly sprung up.

Don’t look at these mails from the perspective of what they are seeking but from what they are telling us. They are telling us that while they might not be urban netizens spending their day in a virtual world, they do have access to the net; that whether or not they are educated, there is someone in their village who is literate enough to communicate at least in broken English; they have mobiles and are unafraid to engage with the unknown; and while they might not be tech nerds they all have the ability to manoeuvre the world wide web, distil information that matters to them and demand their pound of flesh from the government.

We have had similar experience with two other reports, one pertaining to the setting up of a portal for pensioner teachers in West Bengal and another relating to the website set up by the Maharashtra prisons department. These are not stories on our “pride list” and we don’t push them through our social media links. But it seems they don’t need our help at all because these two reports are accessed so often from so many rural and semi-urban locations in these two states that they show up on our daily list of the top five most read reports at least twice every week.

These examples show that, beyond the questionable statistics about net and mobile penetration, something big is going on, that the heart and soul of India is changing. Thomas L Friedman was perhaps referring to this disruption at the ground level when he wrote about the “virtual Indian middle class” in his New York Times column: “Leaders beware: your people don’t need to be in the middle class any more, in economic terms, to have the education, tools and mindset of the middle class – to feel entitled to a two-way conversation and to be treated like citizens with real rights and decent governance.”

This “whole new political community,” Friedman says, “has a 300-million-person middle class and another 300-million-person virtual middle class, who, though still very poor, are increasingly demanding the rights, roads, electricity, uncorrupted police and good governance normally associated with rising middle classes. This is putting more pressure than ever on India’s elected politicians to get their governance act together.”

Friedman’s construct of 300 million real middle class and an additional 300 million virtual middle class might be open for debate because these two groups are not mutually exclusive – there is a huge overlap. Some might even argue the other extreme that they are largely the same. We will grapple with the numbers later but it cannot be denied that the pressure on governance is being mounted definitely from the virtual world more than the real.

But the story of 2013 is not just about the size of the virtual middle class or the pressure it is exerting on governance. Because of the Right to Information, rising literacy, telecom explosion and the slow but steady unfolding of e-governance – and the resultant transparency they are forcing on the system – citizens have been exerting pressure for governance for a few years now. So the story of 2013 is that Alpesh, Ganpatsinh, Harikishan and Dashrath and the millions like them have started intervening in and influencing governance one step earlier, at the level of the political parties, the very crucible of India’s politics. That is what is exciting about the current change.

Read on the full story here: Politics enters the open era

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