‘Aadhaar’ Finally

That the Modi government is hell bent on implementing the controversial ‘Aadhaar’ scheme despite opposition from different quarters is a fact of life. Having failed to introduce it through back-door manipulation they now want to have parliamentary sanction by way of a ‘Money Bill’ that doesn’t require approval of the Upper House where the Modis lack majority. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is yet to explain to the nation why they opposed it when the Congress-led UPA government tried to make ‘Aadhaar’ mandatory. Not that their Bill differs basically from that of the Congress though the Congress Party maintains that it is ‘substantially and significantly different from the UPA’s Bill’. ‘Aadhaar’ was a security risk under the Congress dispension but suddenly it has become a necessary safeguard to ensure security under the baton of Modi. In truth Modi is sincerely implementing all the unfinished anti-people policies of Congress with a saffron touch. There is every reason to believe that the Congress idea of ‘Aadhaar’, a brainchild of Nandan Nilekeni, former chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, was not that innocuous. So, it was challenged in the Supreme Court by some eminent civil libetarians and a number of NGOs. They never made it public why the parliamentary standing committee rejected the scheme in the first place. The government is said to be planning to bring in all subsidies and welfare programmes on one platform and link them through ‘Aadhaar’. Many think it is a cunning device to execute social exclusion plan, somewhat surreptitiously while keeping a large section of population, otherwise socially and economically vulnerable outside the purview of social welfare network. If anybody doesn’t want to become part of it he/she will be denied a number of things that will be provided through ‘Aadhaar’. Also, he/she runs the risk of being called ‘terrorist’ and ‘anti-national. Massive digitisation as ‘Aadhaar’ is and reckless automation by way of e-governance, may open huge business opportunities for a few IT services firms and jobs for a few ‘cyber coolies’ but how it will improve the lot of ordinary people is anybody’s guess. People are literally treated as guinea-pigs.

Without removing objection raised by the BJP against the Congress initiated ‘Aadhaar’ the Modi government is reintroducing ‘Aadhaar’ almost in identical form, only to make it more dubious and conspiratorial. Luckily for Modi, Congress, otherwise not opposed to ‘Aadhaar’ in principle, is not raising the same arguments that the Modis once did. Congress is a strong votary of ‘Aadhaar’ and Modi won’t have much problem in getting it passed, if they accommodate one or two amendments by the Gandhians. They are actually opposing the Modi brand of ‘Aadhaar’ for the sake of opposition on some technical grounds that can be addressed without much hassle. The same is true for their opposition to GST Bill which is out and out anti-poor. They will in the end support both GST Bill and ‘Aadhaar’ Bill after a little bit of noise just to make their presence felt in parliament and allowing their cadres to believe that they are not yet nationally irrelevant—at least they matter in parliamentary talk show.

What is more, the issue, particularly its constitutional validity, is still pending in the Supreme Court. And a 5-member constitutional bench is likely to be formed to review the ‘Aadhaar’ petitions. But the government seems to have lost faith in its own judiciary; they look restless. They are in a hurry to get their job done, but the apex court may again opine against them. Many government agencies, particularly banks, are indirectly pressurising pensioners and subsidised items consumers, and even ordinary account holders to submit ‘Aadhaar’ which they cannot without violating the Supreme Court verdict in this regard. They are trying to make something mandatory that is totally illegal and obnoxious.

Strangely enough, no political party opposed the Bill in principle. Most of their criticisms are too superficial to be ignored. Only a member of Orissa’s Biju Janata Dal questioned the ‘Aadhaar’ Bill and that too half-heartedly. His main concerns were about legality and privacy. The issue of privacy of a citizen was raised by the very BJP while they were in opposition. For all practical purposes, beneficiaries of subsidies are 2nd class citizens. How the foundation of Indian democracy—they say ‘Aadhaar’ is the foundation—would be strengthened by supplying bio-metric data of Indians to foreign companies linked to intelligence agencies of America, remains unanswered. The Congress Party evaded the allegation when they were adamant to implement it and now the BJP simply ignores any criticism that goes against their anti-people policy. In the wake of last parliamentary poll Congress was forced to withdraw ‘Aadhaar’ linked LPG subsidy scheme because of widespread resentment among middleclass voters. So the Modis are desperately trying to have their way before the next parliamentary elections in 2019. People are already burdened with so many cards but the persons in power, particularly the bureaucrats want to add one more to make daily life of ordinary people hazardous.

As for the left parties the less said the better. For them it is not an issue of national significance as if the Apex Court’s repeated orders against the goverment’s deliberate attempt to force the people to swallow the bitter bill of ‘Aadhaar’ have no meaning. They are totally isolated from masses, albeit it is an issue affecting the life of the common man. It is an issue around which mass mobilisation can be made. ‘Aadhaar’ is not an evidence of citizenship and yet they are desperate to register all citizens under its umbrella as an identity proof. People already have many identity proofs, they don’t need another one to make their day to day working more cumbersome.

Even on the question of constitutional legality, they are not seriously attempting to challenge the government’s bid to move the Bill as ‘Money Bill’. Even non-beneficiaries of monetary benefit are required to have ‘Aadhaar’ and anomalies cannot be erased through ‘Money Bill’. The left always reacts to spontaneity. ‘Politics of tailism’ will disfigure them completely beyond recognition anytime soon. Newer issues are coming up but they continue to move in their known old world that is totally alien to most people. Even in vote politics, anti-‘Aadhaar’ stance is necessary but they have no idea as to how to cope with the changed situation. The emptiness of their pro-people rhetoric stands in stark contrast to the hidden discontent of voices questioning the ensuing process of all pervasive digitisation.

Vol. 48, No. 36, Mar 13 - 19, 2016