At the US Congressional elections on November 7, it will be a straw poll for Ravi Singh. He has won the round by a massive mandate, after being voted America’s ‘Campaign Guru’ by USA Today, and, more importantly, by both the Republicans and the Democrats. Ravi’s own campaign, since 1997, has been to get the US electoral process online; he has also been involved with elections in Spain, Mexico and Ghana — and is now looking at India.
The 34-year-old founder and CEO of ElectionMall.com, who is “good friends” with both President George Bush and Senator Hillary Clinton , got his company on to the political radar with a single comment from the American media in 2000: “It is a matter of time before the Internet would change the way politics is done in this country... ElectionMall can do this.”
A first-generation American, whose parents moved to Chicago in the sixties, Ravi calls his company a “nonpartisan technology solutions firm that provides citizens, candidates and political parties with the necessary online tools, services and products to help them win elections via the Internet”. ElectionMall has become a great leveller, a platform where The Rivals — the Republicans and the Democrats — converge to “communicate to voters and mobilise them to turn out on election day”, raise funds and carry out entire “online campaigns” through real time interface.
The political slant comes from the time when, as a 20-something, Ravi worked as administrative assistant to the Lieutenant Governor and State Treasurer of the state of Illinois. By the time he was 25, he wanted to run for public office, becoming the first Asian American to run for office in the 42nd District Illinois General Assembly This was the watershed:
During his campaign, he launched the first “online chat town hall meeting” and the first In ternet candi date campaign website in the district.
But it did not quite work out the way he want ed; so he did the next best thing: setting up ElectionMall.
It is important for Indian politics to ride the cyber wave, he feels. “In the US, the online electioneering market is worth $ 2 billion in 2006; by 2008, it is going to be $ 9.8 billion: that’s the potential of elections online,” he says.
Plans are afoot for Indian political convergence on the Net and he is in talks with the powers-that-be, but “the first thing the government needs to do is ensure that its officials have their own net identity: I’m tired of meeting people who say that they still use a yahoo or hotmail ID.” In Delhi, Ravi runs his own e-democracy R&D lab, for which he keeps coming back to India, and it is lovely, he says, that these days, “I can fly down to Amritsar for a darshan at the Golden Temple — things have become so much more organised, so many flights.” What about George Bush ? “He’s a simple person who is passionate about the implementation of democratic principles,” says Ravi.
“His popularity and his style of functioning, many feel, are subject to debate, but I feel that he has stood up to the challenges the US faces post-9/11.”
He also feels strongly about the fact that President Bush rallied around Sikhs post 9/11: “I’m fiercely proud of my Sikh identity and I wrote an e-book Leadership by Turban in 2003 reinstating the same.” One of his favourite stories is about the time when he enrolled in the US Armed Forces, and the military academy told him he could not wear his turban — at which point Senator Paul Simon and Congressman Dennis Hastert introduced legislation on his behalf that was signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan.
Subsequently, Ravi was allowed to graduate with full honours as 2nd Lieutenant, making him the first American with a turban to graduate. “I wear my turban like a badge,” he maintains.
That badge, he says, became a special badge of honour, when the American President addressed it. “He told me, ‘Ravi, I love the way you wear your identity and your turban — in post-9/11 America… that’s what being American is all about’.” But Ravi would rather call himself the “Indian who lives closest to the American President, on Pennsylvania Avenue”. As they say just a hand-shaking distance away , from the White House.