The Indian government may finally be ready to go social.

In the past year, it has battled with bloggers, Tweeple and Facebookers to rein in what it regarded as defamatory content. But now, it is waking up to the power of using social media to its advantage.

India’s information infrastructure advisor, Sam Pitroda, on Twitter. [screenshot: Twitter]

Sam Pitroda, a senior adviser to the Indian government on information infrastructure, held the government’s first-ever press conference on Twitter on Tuesday. He used the hashtag #DOI, or Democratization Of Information. In his inaugural tweets, Pitroda said that the government wants to “build robust Information Infrastructure to democratize information on a scale that has never been done before.”

@pitrodasam: Now that #India is a country of a billion #connected people, the challenge is to create a new paradigm for #development #DoI


@pitrodasam: Public #Information Infrastructure (PII) will transform India’s 1.2 billion people into 1.2 billion opportunities

It wasn’t long ago when the government’s traditional politicians frowned upon younger leaders who were tweeting. But now the politicians are seeking a digital makeover.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed on to Twitter last year; the pro-business chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, held a Web chat over Google Plus Hangout this month; and the populist chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, has her own Facebook page.

But the government’s efforts at muzzling online dissent are not easily forgotten by the people in the world’s largest democracy.

While Pitroda tweeted about connecting village councils, impoverished tribal people and universities through rural broadbrand, many netizens bombarded Pitroda on the government’s recent censorship efforts.

Here are some of those tweets:

@coolfunnytshirt: ‘Democratization of Information’ vs ‘Govt of India’ - #DoI vs #GoI

@KabirTaneja: @pitrodasam did you advise the PM when certain journalists and such were blocked on social networking sites by the government? #DoI

@yprajesh: @pitrodasam does #DoI also mean govt will be more mature and equanimous when it comes to dealing with those criticising it?

But Pitroda ducked all controversial questions and restricted himself to optimistic tweets about the game-changing possibilities of the broadband plan. Some doubted Pitroda’s tall claims of connecting rural India via broadband when electrification programs have failed.

@shilpitewari: @pitrodasam will electricity reach the villages before broadband... #DoI

When the 45-minute press conference was drawing to a close, some complained that Pitroda was answering only the easy questions.

@jojiphilip @pitrodasam u r answering the easy questions & some of this info is already in public domain! Why don’t u take some tough questions too#DoI

RT @Krupakar_m: Sam Pitroda is answering very less questions.I think his broadband connection is very slow #DoI

Still, Tuesday’s Twitter press conference was a welcome change in a country where the political leadership is gerontocratic but two-thirds of the population is under 35 years of age. Within minutes, Pitroda’s DOI hashtag was trending in India.

‏@pitrodasam: It seems like there is substantial interest in this conference. I am impressed with the energy of Our young. #DoI

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