Question Hour

On a new platform called Our Say,people ask questions to the country’s political leaders — and get answers

Written by Dipanita Nath | Chandigarh | Published: August 14, 2013 12:30 am

Deepti Chadalavada,a young Delhiite,had a question for Milind Deora,Minister of State for Communications & Information Technology,in June this year. “Why is it that if someone posts something online,they are put behind bars if it is something offensive? Why is it that the IT act is misused again and again?” Deora’s extensive response included the spread of the internet,need for online regulations (“You will agree that laws that exist offline must exist online as well”),how Section 66 (A) of the IT Act was framed and the provisions against misusing it. It was a pleasant instance of a young minister interacting with a young citizen on an equal platform,speaking a language that was practical and free of jargon.

Chadalavada wasn’t the only one. An online panel of youngsters from across India bombarded him with issues ranging from cell tower radiations to tackling the digital divide. In May,it had been Shashi Tharoor,Minister of State for Human Resource Development,on the hot seat,facing questions such as “how the higher education system can foster creativity rather than rote learning?”.

These interactions were held on Google Plus Hangout with questions by Our Say,an Australian web-based initiative for citizen-politician engagement,which was launched in India over four months ago. “On the site,www.oursay.org,people post questions to ministers or corporate leaders and we guarantee that the top three questions with the most votes gets answered by the politician or the corporate leader concerned,” says Gautam Raju,28,co-founder of Our Say. Unlike Twitter or Facebook,where a leader may receive thousands of comments,Our Say highlights issues that affect a large number of viewers who show their support through votes.

The platform’s latest initiative is called “If I Were a Neta” and works on the premise,“What issues would you address if you were a neta?” This forum,started a month ago,has received around 7,000 responses and the last date has been extended by a week. Raju says that the process of the winners asking questions from the ministers will be filmed into a short documentary. “We wanted young people to think about issues and ask themselves that if they could make a change,what would it be,” says Raju. One of the participants wants

to “restore faith in the public system,a system in which sadly,most of our netas have lost faith in”. Another talks about “better impact studies to avoid natural disasters catalysed by human intervention with the eco-system”. A popular entry is “If I were a neta,I would do my

best to inspire more youngsters to engage with politics”.

The positive response hasn’t come only from the people. “The ministers,Deora and Tharoor,were approachable and easy to work with,” says Raju,a former policy advisor at the Department of Premier and Cabinet in Victoria,Australia,who moved to Delhi last year.

In Australia,where the initiative was launched three years ago,Our Say caught the imagination of the people. Among the organisation’s high points was when Adam Bandt,an MP,directly asked the (former) Australian Prime Minister,Julia Gillard,a question about euthanasia. Our Say,India,is still building its presence through collaborations with youth organisations such as Youth ki Awaaz and The Alternative. “After all,India is a country with a billion people,” says Raju.

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