NACHIKET UDUPA | 8 OCTOBER, 2018
A Privacywala’s Ghar Wapsi to Aadhaar
Only 0.03% of the people who enrolled for Aadhaar did not have any ID before enrolling
Many JNU types have resisted, questioned and kept watch on the Aadhaar project, and some, including me, even went to court to challenge it. The Supreme Court recently heard a bunch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar and has now pronounced its judgment.
The government’s submissions during the hearings were enlightening to say the least. All of us know that the World Bank is always right and the sovereignty of our nation demands that we do as the Bank says. In keeping with this spirit, the government’s counsel quoted that indisputable document of the World Bank, namely, Identification for Development. This revered text lays down that official identification is a fundamental human right and our government fought in the top court of this country to guarantee this right to us. It states such gospel truths as the fact that Aadhaar is the only mechanism for development. I realise now that this must be why India has not managed to eradicate poverty till now: there was no ubiquitous ID, omnipresent like God, to bless us with progress.
It reminds us of another position taken by the government, as articulated by the honourable Minister of Law and Justice (as well as Electronics and Information Technology) who tweeted last September: “Yes! You need to link your mobile number with Aadhaar as directed by the Supreme Court.”
“In fact there was no such direction from the Supreme Court, but you took it and used it as a tool to make Aadhaar mandatory for mobile users,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said during the hearings. It shows how the government’s faith in this project knows no bounds, and will not be shaken by mere facts.
In case there were still any doubting Thomases left, the learned sage who is the CEO of the UIDAI, differentiated the two epochs – before Aadhaar and after Aadhaar – and gave a discourse on how people from small villages did not have any universal ID till Aadhaar came along. Because of Aadhaar, everybody is blessed with an ID now. This is proven by the government’s response to an RTI application stating that only 0.03% of the people who enrolled for Aadhaar did not have any ID before enrolment.
The Attorney-General pertinently noted that the poor people who were the beneficiaries of Aadhaar have not complained and that only a handful of petitioners want it to be struck down on grounds of privacy. It has since dawned upon me that I was foolish to have Aadhaar-phobia for fear that the database might be hacked, at a time when US social security numbers and Facebook accounts worldwide have been breached.
But I was converted into a believer when I learned that the Aadhaar database is protected by a 13-foot wall, from repeated fake news about Aadhaar data being available publicly. Aadhaar’s robust IT architecture is the answer to all those who ever doubted the capability of the Indian software industry to develop innovative products. It is a shining example of what a top technocrat of India’s software industry with thousands of crores of public money can make. We made a wall! A wall with an all-seeing, all-knowing higher entity inside it that can recognise those who have sinned (by doing too much manual labour or growing too old) by their illegible fingerprints, and damn them to an eternity without access to essential services.
Indian political leaders have always shown that they can rise above party lines when it comes to addressing the concerns of the downtrodden. Some incidents that come to mind are decisions taken on financial benefits to save our MPs from penury, or encouraging anonymous non-Aadhaar-linked donations to political parties, those other charitable institutions that never get enough. Aadhaar is another example of bipartisan bonhomie. The UPA gave birth to it and under the NDA, its adoptive parent, it is growing exponentially.
There is also the instance of the creation of a committee to come up with a data protection policy, as the government now champions the fundamental right to privacy. It stacked this committee with a large number of pro-Aadhaar bureaucrats to save its saviour-of-the-poor project from being killed due to privacy infringement. I am thankful that the aforementioned learned sage heading the UIDAI was on this committee. They have realised that no agency head by a mere mortal can regulate anything divine like the UID and have, therefore, recommended that only it be able to issue orders and directions about anything that concerns itself.
By sheer good fortune, a person who played a central role in drafting the Aadhaar Act, whose constitutionality was being decided by the Supreme Court, and who also argued against privacy as a fundamental right before the Supreme Court, was also on this committee to save Aadhaar from privacy.
The Supreme Court, you will be happy to know, was informed of the Trojan horse of privacy, sent to kill Aadhaar, and the perfect solution seems to have been divined. The court has been told that only uninformed privacy-wallas like myself oppose Aadhaar, which is the lifeline of a billion Indians. So the court has passed a judgment saying that naysayers like me don’t have to link Aadhaar to our SIM cards and bank accounts, but the poor will have to compulsorily provide Aadhaar to save their subsidies from this idiocy called privacy.
It seems to be a win-win situation for both sides: delusional privacywalas get their privacy and the poor get their subsidies.
If I may speak for us wine-and-cheese Khan Market liberals, I only ask one thing of the state – please do not allow us to deprive the poor of India their rights. As penance for being misguided and opposing UID, till such time that any poor person has to compulsorily prove their identity through Aadhaar-based biometric authentication for any service, all of us should be made to do so as well. Every airport, railway station, ATM and SIM-card shop must have biometric machines installed so that we too are in the same, endless queue to face that walled-in database, which will authenticate us and rid us of our middle class ghosts, while hoping that the server, internet, electricity and, most of all, our fingerprints and bodies don’t fail us.
(Nachiket Udupa is a member of Rethink Aadhaar. The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the collective view of Rethink Aadhaar.)