Websites help voters to make informed choices

New Delhi, Dec 3: Did you know that former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati declared assets worth over Rs. 50 crore in 2007 when she contested for a seat in the Uttar Pradesh legislative council but had declared assets of only Rs 5 crore when she had fought the 2004 Lok Sabha polls?

In the 2004 general election, about 1,000 candidates out of over 5,000 had declared assets of over Rs. 1 crore. But only 136 of these crorepatis actually made it to parliament. There are over 800 MLAs around the country with declared assets of over Rs. 1 crore.

Information such as this may seem like trivia but plays a big role when it comes to making informed choices in a democracy.

Now imagine if you had to go through lengthy documents and affidavits filed with the election commission for this information about your candidate.

As India moves towards choosing its 16th Lok Sabha in 2014, a number of websites are bringing to the voter information on candidates, legislators, parliamentary and assembly processes and even encouraging them to vote.

India had around 205 million internet users by October this year, registering a year-on-year growth of 40 percent over last year and by December 2013 the figure is expected to reach 213 million according to Internet and Mobile Association of India. The IT revolution that changed the Indian image internationally promises to bring a change for democracy as well with several websites now making public information about politicians, democratic processes, parliament’s functioning and analysis of candidates before every election.

The Association of Democratic Reforms (www.adrindia.org), which was established in 1999 and has put up a long struggle for availing itself of information about candidates fighting elections, is one of the most popular in this line, bringing out analyses of the criminal records and wealth of the candidates before all recent assembly elections.

The ADR website, on its homepage, has a list of reports and topping the chart is the link to an analysis of candidates in the Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram elections.

One of the links reads: “99 percent of Delhi and 98 percent of Rajasthan MLAs represent less than 40 percent of voters”.

“When we first came up with the idea of getting these affidavits out, we had to file a PIL in Delhi High Court,” recalls Jagdeep Chhokar, former IIM professor and one of the founder members of ADR.

The battle was long as the Delhi government brought an ordinance to stop the release of affidavits, following which the group went to the Supreme Court.

It was the efforts of ADR which resulted in the Election Commission (EC) uploading affidavits on its website. Chhokar adds that before the PIL, it was not possible to get any information on the candidates from the Election Commission.

ADR tied up with Facebook recently to provide information about candidates through SMS.

“The reach of internet, howsoever large the number may be, is still a small percent of our total population. We are using several other mediums to reach the voters,” said Chhokar.

Another such website, www.empoweringindia.org, run by thinktank Liberty Institute, provides information about candidates, election analysis and other details.

“The objective is to encourage citizens to actively participate in the democratic process as well as promote transparency and accountability in politics,” says the website.

One of the leading think tanks giving information on procedures of parliament and assemblies, PRS Legislative Research (www.prsindia.org) provides information on parliament’s functioning, bills passed, pending legislation, time lost and almost every other nugget about parliament.

The think tank provides assistance to parliamentarians as well.

“PRS Legislative Research (PRS) seeks to strengthen the legislative process by making it better informed, more transparent and participatory,” the PRS website says.

While these websites stress on transparency, a lot of them are also encouraging voters, especially the first timers to exercise their right.

There will be 149.36 million first time voters in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, comprising 20 percent of India’s electorate as per the Election Commission.

Another website, Jagore (www.jagore.com), is focussing on women voters.

“Fortynine percent of India’s voters are women. Isn’t it about time women remind the system that their existence in the democracy counts?” the website says.

Yet another website, You speak India (www.youspeakindia.org), started in August this year, offers articles on none of the above (NOTA) option, drug pricing and affordability, human trafficking and a slew of other issues. It also has a link for first time voters to register.

Vote India (www.voteindia.in), which was started in 2008, gives users the option to create a ‘sankalp’ or resolution for voting. The list of ‘sankalps’, which do not reveal the name of individuals, have people pledging to vote or not to vote for particular parties citing different reasons.

“I will Vote for Aam Aadmi Party because they reflect the voice of youth”, reads one ‘sankalp’.

“I will Vote for Maharashtra Navnirman Sena if Raj Thackeray starts talking about constructive measures to be taken for the crumbling infrastructure of Mumbai”, says another.

Users can choose to support or not to support the resolutions.

It also provides information on how to register as a voter, what to do if one’s name has been put incorrectly in the voter’s list and other issues.

The Ballot (www.theballot.in) describes itself as “a visual compendium of information about the world’s largest democracy”.

It has a list of blogs giving information like number of women in parliament, attendance of MPs, and other such things.

IANS