Government 2.0 is about the use of technology to encourage a more open and transparent form of government, where the public has a greater role in forming policy and has improved access to government information.
Govt 2.0: the Indian Case
In India, the attempt to ensure transparency, collaboration and participation through an open government initiative seems much belated. However, it can obviously be felt that a government on social media is not too far away from accomplishment. The question is only degree of use than presence or absence of government on platforms. In India, attempts have already been made regarding the use and applicability of social media on governance. In India, many public institutions, which are a part of the government are online and on platforms.
Open Government Platform (OGPL) is a joint product from India and United States to promote transparency and greater citizen engagement by making more government data, documents, tools and processes publicly available. OGPL will be available, as an open source platform. By making this available in useful machine-readable formats it allows developers, analysts, media and academia to develop new applications and insights that will help give citizens more information for better decisions.
In using an open source method of development, the OGPL community will provide future technology enhancements, open government solutions, and community-based technical support. OGPL has become an example of a new era of diplomatic collaborations that benefit the global community to promote government transparency, citizen-focused applications, and enrich humanity.
Government maintains information on a variety of issues, and that information should rightly be considered a national asset. Citizens are connected like never before and have the skill sets and passion to solve problems affecting them locally as well as nationally. Government information and services can be provided to citizens where and when they need it. Citizens are empowered to spark the innovation that will result in an improved approach to governance.
Social media is a key element of many emerging citizen engagement platforms. These platforms give citizens new voices and provide new channels for government workers and elected officials to talk with them. For instance many of ministries have Facebook pages. Many of Facebook profiles of such ministries have widest possible engagement with the public. Along with the ministries, there are many constitutional bodies like Election Commission of India, which have Facebook profiles; giving a feeling to citizens that they can be remain in touch with the highest offices from their home, street, on travel or through any other manner.
Several government bodies have been seen leveraging the social media sites. As a part of DoT’s pilot project, the first government agency to join the social media back in 2011 was the Ministry of External Affairs. It was started to create a positive image for India and reach out to people. While today, its Facebook page lies in a state of neglect; the same cannot be said about Twitter. It has over forty two thousand followers on Twitter and the account is updated on a regular basis. In fact, the initiative was highly praised, especially due to its role during the Libya crisis. Not only did they put up relevant information about the situation, but they also helped Indians stuck in Libya to return home safely.
Another good example of government body that has effectively used social media is the Traffic Police in various cities. These include Traffic Police Chandigarh, Bangalore Traffic Police, Delhi Traffic Police and Mumbai Traffic Police. Apart from the regular traffic updates, they also respond to people’s complaints and even educate citizens about road safety rules. What also recently made news was an initiative by the Delhi Traffic Police that urged its citizens to upload pictures of traffic rules’ offenders and successfully nabbed over 20,000 of them. The Bangalore Traffic Police also has a similar initiative to nab rule offenders. Both Delhi and Bangalore traffic police are leveraging Facebook to the hilt and the initiatives have been immensely popular amongst the citizens as well. Even the Chandigarh Traffic Police is equally active; however, the Mumbai Traffic Police, which was fairly active during the initial stages, has lately remained inactive.
In India, the Government has already proposed a guideline for using social media by public institutions (FGUSMGO). While the government has just recently issued guidelines to its various departments about the use of social media, there have been several politicians as well as a few official bodies who have been effectively using the medium. Government of India and the general public have been sparring over Internet censorship for the longest time now. Since the past year, it has been seen that government was trying to clamp down on social networking websites and even exercise control over online content. The latest instance is the suspension of Twitter handles and several websites, in the aftermath of violence in Assam that resulted in the exodus of the people of the Northeast from several parts of the country. The proponents of free Internet have heavily criticised the government’s actions.
A common accusation leveled against the government was the fact that it lacked the understanding of the medium and therefore, cannot or should not be allowed to regulate it. However, this is bound to change, as finally the Government has woken up to the need of engaging via social media and, issued guidelines about use of social media to its various departments.
While it will be some time before we are able to interact with various government departments on social media, over the years, there have been some government officials that include high ranking politicians and even certain government agencies who are making their presence felt on social media. The diplomat Nirupama Rao, is an example.
A new battleground for votes has emerged in the social networking sphere. The politicians who place dynamic digital initiatives at the heart of their campaigns will be best placed to gain. As the communications landscape gets denser, more complex, and more participatory, the networked population is gaining greater access to information, more opportunities to engage in public speech, and an enhanced ability to undertake collective action. In the political arena these increased freedoms can help loosely co-ordinated public demand change. In short, the specter of social media is haunting India and attains unimaginable proportion. The background of the epoch we are living in today, the age of the information insurgency, the Internet, the World Wide Web was exemplified remarkably by the First Citizen of India. Just a day after he was sworn in as 13th President, Pranab Mukherjee announced that he would be opening a Facebook account to receive and respond to comments and queries from the public.
The social media comes out to be the fresh amplifier for Indian politicians. Of course, only a minuscule fraction of the political tribe is online but their social media presence could help to blow confidence into voters. Most self-respecting politicians have a Facebook page or at least a placeholder! A few of them have taken a step further and created Twitter accounts. Narendra Modi, Mamata Banerjee, Shashi Tharoor, Sushma Swaraj etc are a few examples! The PMO’s activity on Twitter must be taken note of – at least five tweets a day including an “Agenda Today” tweet. L.K. Advani shares political as well as his personal thoughts but the main focus remains on politics. He has discussed on various topics including unity, Sachar Committee, phone tapping etc. It is only logical that younger politicians tweet/comment more than their senior counterparts. However, barring a few senior leaders including Omar Abdullah, Milind Deora, and the young man with a potential PM tag Rahul Gandhi, other lads and lasses in the political field have chosen to remain mute in the social media space!
Social media is a tool of engagement, not a revolution in itself. It's a cheap and fast way to spread message to a large group of people who are sympathetic to some cause.
Discussion of the political impact of social media has focused merely on the power of mass protests to topple governments. In addition debate around social media and political change are confined to a binary debate between digital skeptics and optimists.
In fact, social media's real potential lies in supporting civil society, open government and the public sphere. Government 2.0 and Open Government are conceptual categories to analyze the democratization of democracy.
India lags far behind in leveraging the potential of social media to achieve transparency, collaboration and participation. However, a Govt 2.0 is on the rise along with a Politics 2.0, Democracy 2.0, Citizen 2.0, and Governance 2.0 etc where Indian political classes are found to have been making use of social media to reach out to the public.
It is obvious that politicians’ using social media is a good sign of democratisation and participatory politics. Most of politicians who use social media to connect with people are middle aged or younger. It is a good sign that when Indian population will reach its youth by 2050, the real potential of engaging with them will be realizable through such platforms. In this decisive moment, social media attains political significance.
About the Contributors: Biju. P. R. is Assistant Professor and HoD, Department of Political Science, Government Brennen College, Kerala. Gayathri O. is Assistant Professor/FDP Scholar, Department of Political Science, Kerala, University.