“It is quite a moment,” says an excited Dominic Pravin, a class X student of Marian Matriculation Higher Secondary School, as he reads through the affidavit of Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, and later carefully fills in the details about it on the Internet.
It has been a hectic week for students like him who are trying to make sense of the electoral process by studying constituencies and profiling candidates. As election fever picks up, a variety of initiatives using social media and web tools are being planned.
One such is Election Watch, initiated with collaborative efforts of 200 NGOs and over 100 students, that has been trying to disseminate information by deciphering hand-written affidavits and providing information — owned assets, list of pending cases, loans and educational qualifications — about candidates using graphs and pie charts online.
The website ‘myneta' provides messaging facilities for those wish to know about their constituencies and candidates by sending an SMS to a particular number. “When you study the details, you think about the massive amount of wealth accumulated by many politicians in a span of three to four years,” says Presanth Sekar, a student of IIT-Madras involved in the initiative.
“A striking aspect is the ‘bracketed M.A.' and the mention of open university in many of the candidates' profiles,” says Josephine A., an M.Phil researcher working on the project. “While we know that these details have been declared by politicians and not corroborated, we also hope this might inspire voters to ask questions and detect lapses,” says P. Sudarshan, coordinator, Tamil Nadu Election Watch (Association for Democratic Reforms) and assistant professor, IIT-Madras. G. Sakthinathan, assistant professor (production engineering) at Anna University, observes such activities are also necessary to ensure “students themselves are convinced and encouraged to vote, considering many don't.”
A. Narayanan, core group member, Forum for Electoral Integrity, says, “With social networking sites and SMS, we are able to reach out to the tech-savvy youth.”
While such initiatives are gaining popularity, social media activists say that regional parties in Tamil Nadu are yet to utilise the web for propaganda the way many national parties do.
K. Srinivasan, who runs ‘universalpod' with over 400 podcasts, says simple tools such as blogs, podcasts, internet groups and social media sites could be used in an integrated way to create awareness. “Politicians need to understand that a sizeable number of urban voters are in the age group 18-30 and have some or the other imprint on the net,” he says.
Experimenting on different lines is Anand Krishnamoorthy, a sound engineer who along with three of his friends, designs podcasts of informal conversations among friends on ‘Puram.'
From histories of the local parties to electoral trends prevalent in the city during the last ten years, these weekly podcasts touch upon a whole gamut of issues.