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India Wired: Google, Personal Tech, and the Upcoming Lok Sabha Elections

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, April 7 2009

Now, you didn't think you had to wait until the U.S. midterms to get another taste of how the Internet is shaping electoral democracy, did you? No, no. In fact, coming up in just a few weeks is the the kickoff to a round of voting for Lok Sabha, India's lower house of Parliament. And with India's growth spurt of young voters, intense interest in the Obama campaign there, and the legacy of the socially-mediated Mumbai attacks, India is primed to serve as both "the largest democratic event in human history," as Google is calling it, and a potentially fascinating demonstration of modern wired politics. If where the Internet meets politics is your cup of tea (and if it's not, might we suggest another blog?), then you're going to want to keep an eye trained on India for the next several weeks.

For their part, Google India has launched a Lok Sabha election center, in partnership with the Hindustan Times and a handful of NGOs. TechCrunch's Leena Rao has a report. (via Why Tuesday) Available in both English and Hindi, the service aims to personalize the election for India's estimated 714 million eligible voters. (Umm, wow is that a lot of people.) Google's election center is really more dashboard than anything else. If you've used iGoogle, you'll be familiar with the look and feel of the site. Bundled together are "development data" on your local area, details on the members of Parliament up for election, and relevant news clips and blog posts. Most eye catching is perhaps the widget that lets you pull up your voter registration and find your polling place. Google has also launched a community around the election called "The Voice of Youth" on its Orkut social-networking site, which is enormously popular in India. (Sample forum topic: "Who is the most non-corrupt politician?")

While the Google India election hub is a nice touch, and an easy way in to the election for us outsiders, what's likely far more interesting is how Indian politicians are using the Internet, and how Indian voters are using it back.

Members of both the Congress Party, currently in power, and the opposistion Bharatiya Janata Party are hungry to reach the coveted youth and middle class votes. And they have new avenues for reaching them. Reuters' Rina Chandran reports that a vibrant economy clipping along as a 9 percent growth rate in the previous three years "encouraged rapid penetration of Internet and mobile phone ownership, giving politicians tools to connect with even far-flung areas." That's encouraged candidates to make their pitches on Facebook (for example, candidate Shashi Tharoor) and to blog. The 81-year-old leader of the BJP, L.K. Advani, has even started blogging with vigor.

And Indian voters are also beginning to make active use of the Internet as they engage in the election. With the tagline "Let's have a meaningful revolution," Vote India is an experiment in collaborative engagement. And then, of course, there's Vote Report India, mentioned in this space yesterday.

If this sort of thing catches your interest, be sure to read Yahoo! Fellow Gaurav Mishra's most excellent post setting the stage for the role of the Internet in India's election. And follow along with us as we keep an eye on how the election develops.

(Lok Sabha photo credit: soham_pablo)