Mumbai portal selected by Harvard for research on transparency

By Mauli Buch, IANS,

Mumbai : Don’t just vote but consciously select your leader – that is the premise behind an Indian portal that offers the database of Mumbai’s 1,500 politicians in order to help voters make an informed choice. It has now been selected by the prestigious Harvard University for research.

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The portal,, was launched in 2008. It boasts of more than 4,500 news reports from 12 newspapers, tracking nearly 1,500 politicians in the country’s commercial capital.

Vivek Gilani, 33, conceptualised the portal to create a permanent and comprehensive record of all the candidates contesting elections from Mumbai at various levels.

Hollie Gilman, a doctoral student at the Harvard University Department of Government, who was in India for the purpose of research, told IANS: “I found to be a database of information on politicians, their work and their track record. I also found that the portal has over 100,000 visitors – who would have made an informed decision in electing their leader.”

“We understand transparency efforts that aim to make relevant information of governmental operations, public policy or social problems available to the public. This information would not otherwise be available to the masses,” Gilman said.

Gilman has been examining the extant literature on transparency and regulation for several months. Prior to Harvard, Gilman was working as part of the field staff for the Barack Obama Campaign. She has also worked for Hillary Clinton on her election campaign.

Gilman said that it is the participation and the huge number of visitors that the portal has seen which speaks volumes of its transparency and accountability.

The portal also has links to more than 400 video interviews of MPs, legislators, officials of the municipal corporation and other candidates directly linked with Mumbai.

Relentlessly perusing objectivity, the portal presents a mirror image of what the elected representative has done since he/she began the journey to enter the legislature.

It was while working as an engineer with a US firm that Gilani thought of accumulating information about the politicians in his city so that he could select and vote for the most deserving ones.

“People often avoid voting as they do not know much about the candidates or politicians. Even if they do so, it may be just hearsay or pure guesswork. I wanted to remove this barrier from the voting process,” Gilani explained.

“I gathered data on politicians through the digital versions of media. But tracking only English dailies did not help. So I also included vernacular media in the process,” he added.

Gilani, while on a visit to Mumbai from the US, contacted professors and researchers and gathered 100 volunteers who coordinated with him on a daily basis on news about the politicians.

“Our idea was simple – we wanted the people to ‘select’ their leader and not just ‘elect’ them. ‘Don’t Vote – Select’ – that’s what our punch-line urges people to do,” he pointed out.

According to Gilani, the portal also includes a record of the elected representatives’ attendance in the legislature and the number of questions he/she raised during the working hours. “You can also check out a candidate’s criminal record,” said Gilani in tongue-in-cheek humour.

The portal tracks information from various official sources, processes the data by an analytical method to convert numbers into coloured, visual indicators. There are red, orange, and green flags for each of the analysis categories separately.

“I am grateful for the hard work put in by the student volunteers of various Mumbai colleges besides two PhD students who meticulously ensured to get the correct information,” Gilani said.

(Mauli Buch can be contacted at [email protected])