rajeev-ask(By Brindaalakshmi K & Nikhil Pahwa)

Member of Parliament (MP) Rajeev Chandrasekhar has started an initiative called ASK (Ask Seek Know) through which he intends to raise questions and queries of citizens during the monsoon session of the Parliament. Citizens can send their government policy or programs related questions and queries to Chandrasekhar by posting the questions on his website, or write to him on rc@rajeev.in, Facebook or Twitter.

It’s a welcome change to see a MP using the Internet to source questions for asking in Parliament, instead of just using it as an information dissemination platform. Questions in Parliament are an important means of raising issues, and holding the government accountable for actions taken or not taken, and MP’s are expected to raise issues that citizens of their constituency are concerned about. Things aren’t always very clean, though: there have been reports of MP’s taking money for questions in Parliament: in 2005, 11 MPs from Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party were exposed by television channel Aaj Tak’s sting operation for taking bribe to ask questions in the Parliament, as indicated by Times of India report.

In addition, it’s difficult for citizens to get in touch with their representatives – the government website lists details for contacting MP’s but there is rarely a response or a reaction. Contrast this Chandrasekhar’s initiative of publicly seeking questions: it not only bridges the gap between elected representatives and citizens, but it also showcases him as someone who is open to inputs, and willing to represent peoples concerns, it also allows him access to a wider set of concerns that can be raised with (and through) him directly.

Contrast this with what many other politicians are doing on social media: the ruling party and the opposition only seem to be using it most often than not to have a go at each other, and not really focusing on real policy issues. Most of them are still using social media as another platform to put out information as part of their brand building exercise, similar to television or print ads. In addition, follower and fan bases are being bought, which really amounts to noting: Rajasthan’s Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot was recently accused of buying fans since most of his fans were from Istanbul on Facebook, according to a NDTV report. At this rate, with fake followers, how can politicians have a conversation with their constituency even if they wanted to?

One wonders if there was really any sense in MP’s being sanctioned Rs 50,000 to buy an iPad: how many of them are actually using the digital tools at their disposal to actually connect with their constituents?

Chandrasekhar, for one, is fairly well versed with the Internet: he is among the MPs who have been campaigning against the draconian Sec 66A of IT Act. Rajya Sabha MP, Rajeev Chandrasekhar had also urged the Indian Prime Minister to withdraw India’s proposal to UN seeking governance of Internet control. 

Interestingly, following the release of the 12th Five Year Plan, the Planning Commission of India had organised a nation-wide hackathon in April 2013 which is open to all making it participatory.  In March 2013, the Planning Commission had also organised a Google Hangout to explain the key elements of the 12th plan. This has been one of those few note worthy initiatives undertaken by the Government of India.