Flat Earth: India off-line

A dazzling debut was promised: voter-friendly, touchy-feely, revolutionary. India's Congress Party was launching a website dedicated to bringing its leader, Sonia Gandhi, into direct contact with Indians everywhere.

With India in the throes of its third general election in four years, "Face to Face with Sonia Gandhi" (http://www.soniagandhionline.com) would take the internet to its interactive best. She would answer any questions sent through the site, thereby dismissing accusations that she is cold, aloof, unapproachable. But the effort backfired: thousands of eager questioners got no response. Pages on the site with titles such as Speeches, Video, and Opinion Polls were empty.

The explanation may lie in the party's official website: http://indiancongress.org. It contained an intriguing section where caution seemed to have replaced confidence. Headed "Our Prime Minister", it led to a page which said, "Under Construction".

India is a major power in the software business, but maybe its politicians should have stuck to oxcarts, cycle rickshaws and hand-pulled carts, which still play an important part in any Indian election campaign.

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