Ravi Singh, the man USA Today dubbed ‘America’s Campaign Guru’, and founder and CEO of electionmall.com — one of the largest campaign and election technology firms in the US — had an interesting run-in with the online political system in India.
This was after he had campaigned — online — rather successfully for both President George Bush and Senator Hillary Clinton, without ruffling feathers on either side of the political divide. He met an Indian politician on one of his many trips to the country of his origin.
“You’ve done some amazing work with international campaigns,” the politician told him, “why don’t you do the same for me?”
“It would be an honour, sir,” said Ravi. “When can I start work?”
“As soon as possible,” responded the politician. There was just one little thing. “I can’t pay you: you have to do it gratis.”
It’s bad enough meeting government officials who still use Hotmail and Yahoo addresses, says Ravi, but this encounter was a revelation: “If you want to serve the public, you need to hire the best talent — and the best talent does not come free…”
There’s one more problem, he adds. “I’m worried that India is about to make the same mistakes the US made in 1996.” Back then, American politicians treated the Net “as a medium to get their party message out rather than engage with the public”.
That is what is essentially wrong with the system here, in India. “Political participation is fundamental: voters need to give
feedback and get inspired to actually go out and vote.”
If big parties like the BJP or the Congress want to reach out to the Indian community, then the Web has to be part of the strategy. “The younger politicians who I keep meeting are realising this more and more — and my gut-feel is that 2007 will be a watershed for the Indian online political system… there’ll be baby steps taken, but that’s a start… e-democracy is a reality, it’s happening globally, it will happen in India too.”
In the US, the online electioneering market will be worth $9.8 billion by next year; in 2006, it was worth $2 billion: that’s the potential of elections online.