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In what could prove a major fillip to India's drive toward greater transparency in public spending through e-governance — if it is ever implemented — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unveiled a slew of IT-related campaign promises this week, reports India's Business Standard.
Among the big ticket items, the BJP promised a multi-purpose identity card for all citizens, 12 million new information technology-enabled jobs in rural areas, laptops priced at Rs 10,000 for 10 million students, and a smart mobile phone for every family below the poverty line.
To readers unfamiliar with India, these promises might seem irrelevant to the needs of the 600-odd million Indians who still earn their livings from farming and continue to live in remote rural villages. But many pundits, including Infosys co-chairman Nandan Nilekani, entrepreneur Rajesh Jain and IT guru Ashok Jhunjhunwala, among others, have been talking about the potential benefits of the "electronification of India" for years.
A national ID card and a connected computing device, for example, could allow hundreds of millions of Indians who presently have no access to a bank account or any financial services to avail of new options for credit. More importantly, perhaps, it would allow the public distribution scheme for below-poverty-line families to transfer money directly into their accounts, eliminating a huge amount of graft.
Here's what Nilekani told me in a recent interview that appears on Global Post's premium service, Passport. Technology, as shown by the growth of the mobile phone market in India, has become so cheap that it will soon be possible for everybody to afford a net-enabled access device, or for the government to provide them for free. He envisions big benefits:
"In a welfare society, how do you make sure those people who have less opportunity, or who are poor, or whatever, how do you create a safety net for them? I believe there again there's a big role for technology, because if we can identify our citizens, and we can identify financial accounts for our citizens, if we can help them with social insurance on an individual basis — whether it's health care, or unemployment, or pensions, or whatever — then you're laying the framework for a safety net. You can do that much more easily with technology than with any other method."
Now, let's see if this is an idea that resonates with voters who've never seen a computer in their lives.