Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India initiative aims to bolster the technical infrastructure for e-governance and e-commerce in the country, and also hopes to reach out to 250,000 panchayats, enlarge the scope of citizen delivery services and allow a greater participation of citizens as part of the Centre’s ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ approach. Along with Make in India and the National Skills Development Mission, the government wants to ensure that India has both skills and technology at its disposal.
The Digital India strategy can improve information communication technologies (ICTs) and that, in turn, can help the country improve its social indices, helping us meet the sustainable development goals (SDGs), which would be signed at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in September. The UN too has embarked on a mission to explore the further integration of ICT into development priorities and an expert group has recommended several measures — improved broadband penetration, creation of knowledge societies and local language applications and focus on e-health and e-education delivery models — for reaching the SDGs.
Thus the common goals of capacity building and creation of more applications give Digital India another edge: African and other South Asian countries can adopt the project. The community information centres project, which was metamorphosed into the common service centres in India in the last decade as part of the national e-governance programme, was successfully adopted in many other countries.
While the issues of capacity building remain an avenue for further ICT diplomacy, the emerging areas offer a greater role for Indian participation. As the global community is still deliberating on an acceptable Internet governance mechanism, India can play a major global role here. With the Modi government endorsing the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance, which was being espoused by the advanced nations for a long time, India has the great opportunity to take a leadership role and focus on an area like cyber security, a priority under the Digital India programme. The desire to see India as a hub for global cyber security will in turn give a push to the Make in India programme and reignite the ICT hardware industry, which never blossomed in India for various reasons.
Digital India’s ambitions are grand but they are attainable. It can create jobs, reduce the digital divide and help India reach its development targets with the help of technology.
Subimal Bhattacharjee is a member, Research Advisory Network, Global Commission on Internet Governance. The views expressed are personal.