As Samantha Power writes on the White House blog, President Obama attended an Expo on Democracy and Open Government in Mumbai, India, yesterday. The event highlights transparency, citizen participation, government responsiveness, and political accountability.
Before delivering his remarks, President Obama spent some time talking with expo participants and learning about their approaches to promoting open government.
As Ms. Power reports,"Part of what Indian civil society groups have discovered is the importance of using personal stories and publicizing factual data in order to mobilize democratic demand. President Obama spoke with Janagraaha, a group that created the website Ipaidabribe.com where Indians upload videos of their experiences in paying a bribe, in refusing to pay a bribe, and in "not having to pay a bribe" -- where Indian public servants provide services that citizens wish to celebrate. The website has received 120,000 hits in two and a half months. He also met with Arghyam, which holds public gatherings in rural India to test local drinking water. By ensuring that citizens are present to witness the water tests (the tests turns yellow for dirty water, purple for clean), the group is able to build bottom-up and intense pressure for clean water and hold local officials accountable if the water quality does not improve. A growing portion of this demand comes from women -- women's civil society groups, and women village leaders. The 73rd amendment to the Indian Constitution in 1993 mandated that one-third of Indian seats in government would go to women. More than one million women have been elected since this law was passed, and President Obama heard from the Hunger Project, which has trained more than 90,000 women local leaders. The President met a woman leader from a rural Panchayat who -- once elected -- overcame the opposition of the village leaders and mobilized her community to build the village's first-ever school for girls."
In his remarks, the President lauded India's use of technology to "leapfrog some of the intermediate stages of government service delivery, avoiding some of the 20th century mechanisms for delivering services and going straight to the 21st." He also encouraged India to share its experiences and best practices with other countries seeking to strengthen democratic civil society. The United States announced an initial commitment of approximately USD 1 million -- with a matching commitment of in-kind assistance from the Indian government -- to enable the U.S.-India Partnership on Open Government to support the efforts of reformers and activists in other countries.
A transcript of President Obama's remarks at the expo, along with a transcript of his Town Hall remarks with students at the college where the expo was held, and transcripts of other meetings and events in Mumbai and New Delhi, is available on the White House site.