What motivated you to join politics?
I have always found politics quite fascinating in terms of its ability to make a meaningful contribution to other fields. This is not to say that other professions are not meaningful, but politics allows you to help effect a powerful transformation in society. I have been following politics since I was young and was struck by its potential even while working in the corporate world. My decision to enter politics was not an emotional or kneejerk response. In fact, I came into politics well after my father died and it was a decision I took on my own.
What is the one idea or thought you would like to introduce to Indian politics?
While we are justifiably proud of the proliferating roots of our democracy, I wish we could do something about the multiplicity of elections. In my constituency, we have sabzi mandi elections, bar council elections, zila parishad elections, panchayat samiti elections. I think all this takes too much of our attention as politicians and as a country, and turns resources away from governance.
Is the Internet only an urban indulgence in India? As an MP from a fairly rural constituency, how does it make a difference to your voters?
There are 120 million Internet users in India and, you are right, the vast majority are in urban India. However, the Internet is moving quickly into the hinterland. The government is committed to getting more and more young people online, irrespective of where they live. There’s a Rs 20,000 crore project to link all panchayats through optical fibres into a broadband network.
In my constituency, Ajmer, there are 251 government schools with 50,000 students. We have opened computer labs in each school with five computers each with Internet access. Coursework is online, and in Hindi. You should see the excitement in the children and their parents. They think they are on the same playing field as people in Mumbai or Delhi.
The future of the Internet lies in generating user content in regional languages, not just English or even Hindi. We have managed to put 12 other Indian languages on the Internet. Take Tamil, which has 50 million speakers worldwide. Think of what may happen when it gets a bigger Internet presence.
We have had acrimonious debates about Internet regulation. Do they point to how most Indian politicians, across parties, don’t understand the Internet?
It’s not just a question of politicians. We have to bring our police, our bureaucracy and our institutional systems in line with what are called ‘global best practices’. Of course, we have to do this in a manner that is non-confrontational, but also does not allow those who misuse the Internet to run amok.
Do realise the Internet is an evolving medium. We are all learning about it as we go along, and that includes the issue of regulation. But certain principles and laws have to be respected, irrespective of the medium — whether print or television or online.
Ashok Malik is Contributing Editor, Tehelka.