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Chidambaram to Talk Budget on Google+ Hangout

by Prasad Krishna last modified Mar 11, 2013 04:14 AM
Indian politicians are slowly warming up to social media.

This article by Dhanya Ann Thoppil was published in the Wall Street Journal on March 4, 2013. Sunil Abraham is quoted.

In a first for a cabinet minister, Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram tonight is hosting a Google+ Hangout, a Web video chat, to answer citizens’ questions on the budget he presented last week.

At 8 p.m. on Monday India time, Mr. Chidambaram will be joined by a group of experts to discuss the state of India’s economy, which looks set to grow at its weakest pace in a decade this financial year.

On the panel are also Amit Singhal, senior vice president at Google Inc., Anand Mahindra, chairman and managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., Jahangir Aziz, chief economist for India at J.P. Morgan and Manish Chokhani, chief executive officer at Axis capital.

The online chat, which the Ministry of Finance in a statement described as “a powerful communication platform,” is an attempt to engage India’s tech-savvy, middle-class youth in the political process.

“It is an attempt by the government to reach out to gen-next,” ahead of the general elections scheduled in 2014, said S. Chandrasekharan, the director of South Asia Analysis Group, a Delhi-based think tank.

Improving opportunities for the country’s younger generations was a major focus of Mr. Chidambaram’s budget speech to lawmakers Thursday. “My budget has before it one overarching goal: to create opportunities for our youth to acquire education and skills that will get them decent jobs or self-employment,” he said, adding, “Their concern are my concerns, too.”

But Mr. Chidambaram won’t be interacting with citizens directly. He will answer questions submitted by citizens in advance through video uploads on this YouTube channel or on this Google + page. The session will be streamed live on both websites.

Social media is only beginning to emerge as a tool Indian politicians use to reach out to the country’s citizens.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, often criticized for not being accessible to the media, set up a Twitter profile about a year ago. But the account is managed by his office staff, not by Mr. Singh himself, and it’s mostly used to share links to pictures or speeches of the Prime Minister.

Narendra Modi, chief minister of the state of Gujarat and possible prime ministerial candidate for the opposition Bhartiya Janata Party, has embraced digital media more than other politicians. In August he hosted a Google + Hangout session to answer questions from citizens and in December had a holographic image of himself projected live at rallies in four different locations to communicate with his supporters during his election campaign.

The government last year also came up with a series of guidelines for its various arms on the effective use of social media to reach out to people and to ensure public participation in policy framing.

Still, the government often views social media with suspicion, and has taken steps to regulate user-generated content on websites more tightly.

There are 14 million broadband connections in India, meaning that only a small portion of the country’s 1.2 billion population has reliable Internet access, says Sunil Abraham, executive director at the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society.

“So, unlike in the U.S., where you can fault the government for not being online, in India you can’t really fault the government,” says Mr. Abraham.

ASPI-CIS Partnership


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