At the time of writing this it looks like there is a foreign press crew inside Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy’s chamber. One can see what looks like a large camera, and two foreign-looking journalists, one with huge headphones over his bald head.
But there is no sign of the chief minister himself.
From 1 July two webcams— one in Chandy’s cabin and the other in his office—have been streaming live pictures, but not audio, that are freely accessible on the official Kerala chief minister website. This is not the first time that Chandy has done something like this. During a two-year stint as chief minister from 2004 to 2006 Chandy had a camera installed as well.
But that was before India embarked on a nationwide festival of corruption inaugurated by the Commonwealth Games. In the current climate of moral depravity, Chandy’s effort is interesting. This’s also why, unlike his first attempt, the second one earned a long story in The New York Times.
Chandy’s “cameras of righteousness” are symbols of both populist tokenism and of a certain resignation.
The thought that the cameras will in any way reduce corruption is ludicrous. Chandy or his staff only have to step out of the frame to regain anonymity. And even within the camera’s purview there are a hundred ways on business as usual. But it will be popular. It is the kind of gesture that gives Chandy the freedom to say “Look, I did something” and the public the salve of imperfect oversight.
Chandy is also, in a way, throwing up his hands and saying that few people trust what their elected representatives say any more. He told The New York Times, somewhat ominously, that rather than fighting corruption he wanted to create an atmosphere of transparency.
This is disingenuous. There aren’t enough cameras in the world to create such an atmosphere through surveillance in Kerala, leave alone India.
Currently the country’s problem is not that we don’t know where corruption is taking place, who is involved in it, what are the sums involved or when this corruption took place. All this we usually know. The problem is our inability, or unwillingness, to do anything with this information.
Update: The room has filled up with many people in white shirts and dhotis. Everyone is waiting for the chief minister.
Can webcams check corrupt practices? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org