When it comes to visions, political parties are capable of conjuring up outlandish ideas out of thin air. On the eve of the election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has released an “Information Technology (IT) Vision Document”. It is appropriately worded.
Among the promises made in the document are 12 million IT-enabled jobs for rural India, laptops for 10 million students at Rs10,000 a piece, interest-free loans for those who cannot afford this amount and broadband Internet in every village at less than Rs200 per month, among a slew of other initiatives.
The plan raises more questions than it answers: Where will the money to implement the project come from? How much of this work will the BJP be able to finish (assuming it comes to power) before it is election time again? Given the weak record of governments in implementing ambitious projects, will this one be any different?
These sorts of glamorous IT fixes—speedy Internet, sleek laptops and plugged-in schools—skirt bigger problems with rural education. In 2001, half of Indian women were illiterate and for rural India, those who can read often have not gone beyond functional literacy. A laptop won’t solve that.
The technological grandstanding doesn’t end with education-related endeavours, though. The BJP proposed unlimited voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) usage, converting post offices into IT-enabled multi-service outlets and promoting what it calls e-Bhasha, or encouraging IT in Indian languages.
Instead of its IT illusions, the BJP could do much to promote linkages between the established IT sector and rural India. IT is a distinctly urban phenomenon that has limited roots in rural India. Until Indian urban and rural markets are better bridged, the IT projects proposed by the BJP may prove unsuccessful.
To be fair, some elements of the IT vision have a limited kernel of possibility in them, such as multipurpose identity cards for all Indian citizens. But the BJP’s IT vision is, quite frankly, so outlandish that it borders on disbelief. As its rural base is eroding to populist coalitions, it would do well to focus on meaningful rural schemes—not an IT mirage. What will be dreamt up next?
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