Can a Machine Learn Democracy?

Rajendran Narayanan, Azim Premji University
Sakina Dhorajiwala, LibTech India
Chakradhar Buddha, LibTech India

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The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) provides up to 100 days of work in a year for every rural household at a minimum wage. The Act has several landmark worker-centric provisions. For the implementation of MGNREGA, for the first time in the country, a transaction-based Management Information System (MIS) has been made available in the public domain; a feather in the cap of transparency. However, there are several critical questions to be examined in this regard. Our main focus in this article is to explore the tensions between technocracy and democratic values/participation in the context of MGNREGA and its associated MIS. We use our action research on information-based interventions in several states to examine whether the MGNREGA MIS incorporates democratic values, whether it has been inclusive or if it has widened the existing inequities. We use specific examples to illustrate how such an information system has been used to subvert the legal rights of workers. We underscore that technological interventions, with a compassionate human-centred design are potentially powerful tools for transparency, accountability, and grievance redressal. However, technology alone can neither enhance participatory democracy nor reduce socio-economic inequalities.

Suggested citation:

Narayanan Rajendran, Sakina Dhorajiwala and Chakradhar Buddha. 2021. “Can a Machine Learn Democracy?” Centre for Sustainable Employment Working Paper #34, Azim Premji University, Bangalore.