A website of the future3 min read . Updated: 07 Feb 2012, 09:24 PM IST
A website of the future
A website of the future
Flipkart.com isn’t the Indian website of 2012. Neither is Snapdeal.com nor are any of the other Internet companies receiving big venture capital money. And the corruption fighter of 2012 isn’t Anna Hazare or Arvind Kejriwal or the comptroller and auditor general of India, Vinod Rai. Rather the website of the year and the corruption fighter of 2012 are one and the same person.
His premise, somewhat similar to WikiLeaks, is to set information free. In the case of Navalny.ru, he questioned how one of Russia’s largest companies, Transneft, had donated $300 million without naming a single charity. Navalny hounded the company asking for a list of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that the monies supposedly went to. He never received an answer, but his website became a hotbed of corruption complaints.
Given their heavy influence in Russia, Navalny has focused his efforts on state-run companies (or companies with heavy state involvement), and the government. Russians are fed up with corruption and Navalny’s website is finding an ardent following. He now has over 100,000 followers on Twitter. Now take India. We are fed up with corruption. A Lokpal Bill may or may not materialize. Even if it does, it will take time to set up the system. However, a young Indian could start a website tomorrow to expose corruption. Go to any home or any place where such matters are discussed in Delhi or Mumbai and you will hear about how this person or that person has stashed away crores. There are stories about politicians with houses abroad, Swiss bank accounts, fancy cars and a gilded lifestyle.
And the mass of citizens believes these stories as well. But no one offers any proof. Bollywood suffers from the same problem, but there the columnists have come up with a way around offering proof, the blind item. The blind items will say: which Bollywood star, a leading king, was not happy with the recent XYZ awards because he was seated next to his former friend and now mortal enemy or which Bollywood star is carrying on an affair with her famous co-star unknown to the co-star’s wife. The items are usually easy to figure out for anyone who has remotely followed Bollywood.
One could imagine Delhi’s political reporters doing the same thing: which political party chief, a model of probity, has recently bought himself a Range Rover for his house in London which he shares with his European mistress. This is an imagined example, so don’t try to figure it out: I just made it up. But the fact is that we would believe blind items about our politicians as much as we believe them about our Bollywood stars, if not more.
But an entrepreneuring Indian could create a website that documents corruption. How? If members of Parliament are corrupt, if ministers are corrupt, it cannot happen in a vacuum. In Sivaji, Rajinikanth makes a point by saying find me the auditors, accountants, the No. 2s, the people who work for these politicians. He manages to access their benami accounts and divert the monies for good use (Rajinikanth fans, I understand this is a simplified version of a much more complex plot).
It just can’t be that we all believe that politicians have wealth beyond imagination and yet there is no proof. One cannot own a house in Bali or London without having some documentation. There cannot be lakhs, crores and zillions stored away in Switzerland without some proof.
And that proof is Indian website of 2012 will provide. It will move from blind items to seen items, it will give proof, if not actively encourage believers in blind items to find it. But this is not the work for the faint of heart. Such a website will draw howls of protest. The powers that be will try to shut it down. Russia’s Navalny has had many smear campaigns run against him. In the latest one, a photo was shown of him next to an exiled Russian billionaire. Turns out the photo was forged. Navalny has given his wife multiple numbers to call in case he is not heard from. The threats to his life are real.
An Indian doing the same will face no less pressure. There will be threats of legal action and threats to life. It is for that reason that the young Indian who undertakes this will be the 2012 person of the year.
Prashant Agrawal, a principal at a management consultancy, writes on public policy issues in India and internationally.
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