With an Enemy like Modi

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. With an enemy like Modi resistance is no longer an option, it is now a matter of life and death. The crisis of democracy has reached its tipping points and it is nowhere so pronounced as in the case of unlawful implementation of ‘Aadhaar’. Once again the Supreme Court reiterated its earlier stand that Aadhaar cards cannot be made mandatory for extending benefits of social welfare schemes. But who bothers about court orders? After all the Modi government has developed a habit of violating court orders. In case of ‘Aadhaar’ they are simply committing ‘contempt of court’’ without being criticised by the so-called opposition. The Centre has long been trying to make ‘Aadhaar’ mandatory by coercing the public while by-passing court strictures in a manipulative way. It was a brain child of the Congress-led UPA regime and Modi’s party in those days opposed it on grounds of national security and dignity. But now their concerns about security have gone. Money talks and it is talking rather loudly in case of ‘Aadhaar’. What matters in the end is business and so it is a business as usual game, notwithstanding adverse court rulings. And Modi’s finance minister Arun Jaitley, himself a lawyer, admitted in the House the other day in no uncertain terms that ‘Aadhaar was a great initiative of the previous UPA government and they would expand its use, by making it mandatory for direct benefit transfer of subsidy and checking of tax evasion’. While the Apex Court is saying one thing, the government, however, is moving in the opposite direction, making the judiciary a mockery of democracy. And finance secretary Ashok Lavasa went a step further as he took special pains to explain how ‘Aadhaar’ had brought efficiency in public spending and removed corruption. But ‘Aadhaar’ itself is now a huge source of corruption. All their well publicised anti-corruption measures have so far failed, the latest being demonetisation. Mr Lavasa further added that ‘Direct Benefit Transfer’ in several schemes resulted in savings to the tune of Rs 34,000 crore but he didn’t explain how ‘Aadhaar-seeding’ made it possible.

Initially ‘Aadhaar’ was introduced with a lot of fanfare without disclosing the government’s hidden agenda. One area of criticism was how it would transfer biometric data of Indian citizens, to some foreign intelligence agencies. Luckily for the Modis, no international whistle-blower has yet come forward to expose international dimensions of ‘Aadhaar’. The British police administration in India introduced ‘Criminal Record Section—CRS’ to gather biometric data, mainly fingerprints etc, of criminals and political prisoners. The system was not discontinued in independent India. One may draw parallel between ‘Aadhaar’ and ‘CRS’. In other words Indian citizens are being treated as ‘criminals’ or ‘terrorists’ and this is an attack on their privacy and fundamental rights.

All earlier court orders from the first order of the court on September 23, 2013, made it clear without any ambiguity that ‘Aadhaar’ would be voluntary, not mandatory. But a month ago they even tried to link ‘Aadhaar’ with mid-day meals in schools. Legal experts are in opinion that seeding the ‘Aadhaar Number’ is itself beyond law, rather it is bad in law.

It’s now an open secret that establishing one’s identity, as claimed at the launch of ‘Aadhaar’ is not really the aim. ‘Aadhaar’ is being challenged on constitutional grounds. As a seven-judge bench is to be constituted for the purpose, the government is making frantic efforts to introduce it through manipulations and force. Surveillance, profiling, tagging, tracking in security of the data base—all are to be addressed by the court before delivering final verdict. But the Modis are restive, they cannot wait for constitutional niceties to be discussed in a legal forum, even if their action denies fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution and more particularly the right to liberty as specified under Article 21. They say they have already made ‘Aadhaar’ somewhat compulsory in about 78 schemes and there are many more in which it has to be implemented.

Not that opposition parties, including left parties don’t know how ‘Aadhaar’ has become a critical factor in national security because of involvement of foreign firms in this lucrative business. Even in 2013, it was widely debated in civil liberties movements that the companies involved in India’s ‘Aadhaar’ venture—L-I Identity Solutions, Morpho and Accenture—had dubious distinction of being agents of foreign intelligence agencies, not excluding the notorious CIA. Only some eminent jurists and retired army officers raised the issue but the political left, not to speak of the right, didn’t react.

The Centre knows it well that they cannot defend the indefensible—the involvement of some foreign companies in making ‘Aadhaar’ an all pervasive reality. So they are in a hurry to implement this unpopular scheme before the Constitutional Bench gets constituted. No matter what the court is saying—or not saying—they are all set to extend ‘Aadhaar’ to ‘non-benefit’ areas like IT Return, PAN etc. Law is not the prime concern before the lawyer finance minister.

There is a scope to agitate on a national issue like ‘Aadhaar’ and its rampant use, rather misuse. But leftists show no interest in it. They are increasingly becoming irrelevant in national politics and gradually losing even their traditional base of middle class and lower middle class people who are badly affected by the government’s obnoxious policies like Demonetisation, ‘Aadhaar’. They cannot win back what they have lost—credibility—by remaining on the sidelines. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. It is more crucial than ever before to address the gigantic shifts economically and politically that have produced enormous anger and frustration among the people. 

Vol. 49, No.40, April 9 - 15, 2017