IT for Democracy

April 22, 2009

LK Advaniji on a Laptop

In most of my speeches during the current election campaign I have been referring to the BJP’s Information Technology Vision, and trying to explain to the people how this latest gift of man’s ingenuity in the field of science has presented our country with a unique opportunity to overcome the many daunting challenges in socio-economic development.

The BJP’s IT Vision, we have promised the people, will help India (a) overcome the current economic crisis; (b) create productive employment on a large scale; (c) accelerate human development through vastly improved and expanded education and healthcare services; (d) check corruption and (e) make India’s national security more robust.

This week when I addressed a massive meeting at India’s principal IT Centre Bangalore, I recalled how for ages now the biggest invention in the history of science has been supposed to be the WHEEL. I observed that based on what we have been witnessing and experiencing in the past two decades, it would have to be acknowledged that the COMPUTER CHIP has displaced the Wheel!

An extremely interesting book I have come across lately is one titled 1000 Years 1000 people. The book is not just a compilation of names of the thousand leading persons of the last millennium; it actually has done a meticulous ranking of the men and women who shaped the millennium.

Five Key criteria selected for the grading of these one thousand are: lasting influence, contribution to wisdom and/or beauty, influence on contemporaries, singularity of contribution and charisma.

Ranked as Number One in this list is Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the Printing Press in 1430s. The thousand names include 13 Indians. The first name among these is that of Mahatma Gandhi. He has been ranked 12th.

What I regarded as remarkably relevant to the context of this blog is the preliminary comment the authors have made on the chapter dealing with the emergence of the computer. The preamble reads:

“Previous generations went gaga over the telephone, over the automobile, over plastic, over atomic power, over television, over space travel. All were huge leaps in the technology that transformed our lives. But none ushered in–dare we use the metaphor?–a new millennium. Computers are different. They are more important than any of the above. Bigger even than the automobile. More far – reaching in their ultimate impact on civilization, perhaps, than the printing press itself.

“if we could declare one soul to be the creator of the computer, the Great Pilot of the Age of the Internet, we might have to bump Gutenberg from our number 1 spot to make room” (italics added).

The reason why the computer could not displace the printing press in the ranking was that as many as some five persons would have had to share that top position. The authors add here; “So pause with us to salute John Bardeen, the transistor meister; Robert Noyce, the chip champion; Stephen Wozniak, the PC pioneer, Seymour Cray, the computer superman; and David Packard, the computer supersalesman.”

Around the time India got independence, for many young men Marxism had great attraction. It was precisely during this period that my fondness for books made me read two brilliant books of fiction by George Orwell Animal Farm and 1984. Both were devastating denunciations of the concept of the Marxist state. In Animal Farm, a group of Bolshevik style pigs capture a farm. The story that follows is deeply disturbing. It is this Orwellian tale that carries the famous aphorism: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. The second book 1984 is about a totalitarian state controlled by an all knowing Big Brother. Central to the success of this despotic state was what we now know as Information Technology. Orwell conceived of an instrument called the telescreen, a wall-sized flat panel display that could simultaneously send and receive images from every household in the state to a hovering Big Brother.

The concept has been scientifically realised. The P.C. has made the telescreen come true. But the consequence has been quite the contrary of what Orwell feared. Instead of Big Brother watching every citizen in the State, it is the citizen, who through the P.C. and Internet is able to watch their rulers more closely than ever before.

I have no doubt that IT is progressively going to become an increasingly powerful tool for Democracy, as it has already become for election campaigning”.

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