Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Digital Connectivity as Basic Right in India: Are We Listening to Another Rhetorical Prime Minister?

Pune: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing at the “Gyan Sangam”, a two-day retreat function of the chiefs of financial institutions, in Pune on Saturday. PTI Photo

Yesterday PM Modi said something very important at the inauguration of the 102nd session of the Indian Science Congress at University of Mumbai. He said that Digital Connectivity should be the basic right of citizen of the country. He clearly said, “Digital connectivity should become as much a basic right as access to school.” Refer to thisarticle for complete text of Modi’s speech. 
This brings us to many questions around vision of our Prime Minister. Though it is important for us to project India as a strong economic power, but it must never mean to negate the real issues which are pertinent to the nation. At a time when a significant population of the nation lives below poverty line, when people are denied access to basic human needs, it makes no sense for the significant population to be digitally connected.

We have entered digital era. India is pacing up with the world in the run for development. There is no blinking to this. But leader of world’s biggest democracy, and one of the most complex countries, Modi knows that there are people in the nation who have never been part of the race of development. India ranks 135 in the Human Development Index in the year 2014, close to many African countries. When Prime Minister of the 135 rank holder nation in Human Development Index, says that Digital Connectivity should be as much a basic right as access to school, the world will be analysing the priorities of the nation.

Also, the Right to Education in the nation has become a matter to laugh at. Almost no state in the nation is equipped to provide the infrastructure to accommodate every child under the age of 14 years. Uttar Pradesh government had clearly said that it does not have enough money to support the RTE program (Right to Education). Many other states had followed suit. But till now the RTE program has not been implemented properly. Central government has not been able to provide infrastructure for the RTE program. There has not been enough political will to ensure that every child gets basic schooling. Is the PM talking about similar destiny of “Right to Digital Connectivity”?

We also need to know what does PM meant when he said digital connectivity should become basic right. Does it mean that there will be proper planning to ensure that every citizen has a laptop to be digitally connected? We hope our PM is counting the homeless and the various child labourers as citizen of the nation while sharing his vision of digital connectivity, and not only the middle and the upper class as part of the vision.

Our first PM, Nehru, had a clarity to prioritise and talk about issues which required immediate attention, and planning the future accordingly to ensure that the nation is on way of inclusive development. Obviously leaders of later generations lost track, and India is in a mess from where it started. PM Modi has won trust of the nation. It is important for him to transform this trust into inclusive development.

India cannot afford to listen to rhetorics from another Prime Minister. It has heard rhetorical promises from many in the past. India needs concrete planning and clarity of vision. We hope PM Modi is able to keep up with his promise of inclusive growth and realistic programmes.

This article was first published in LokMarg on January 4, 2015

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