The Aadhaar dilemma for opponents at Centre, proponents in states

the Cabinet of the Congress-led government in Karnataka approved the Karnataka Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill 2018, which will make 12-digit unique identification number compulsory for its residents to avail of state subsidies, benefits and services.

india Updated: Mar 02, 2018 08:34 IST
Sarika Malhotra
Sarika Malhotra
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Aadhaar,Congress,Karnataka government
A government employee marks her attendance through an Aadhaar-based system. (Vipin Kumar/HT File Photo)

On January 17, Congress president Rahul Gandhi posted a Twitter message on what made the United Progressive Alliance’s concept of Aadhaar different from the National Democratic Alliance’s. “UPA’s Aadhaar = A voluntary instrument to empower citizens. NDA’s Aadhaar = A compulsory weapon to disempower citizens,” Gandhi wrote.

A little more than a month later, on February 21, the Cabinet of the Congress-led government in Karnataka approved the Karnataka Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill 2018, which will make 12-digit unique identification number compulsory for its residents to avail of state subsidies, benefits and services.

The timing and the nature of the Bill appears to be in conflict with the Congress’s official stance that forcing Aadhaar, which has become the bedrock of many central welfare programmes, cashless financial transactions and even for opening bank accounts and getting mobile phone connections, on people is a recipe for disaster.

Read: In Aadhaar-PAN linkage, a gender lost

The Karnataka bill invited flak on social media. Priyanka Chaturvedi, the Congress party’s national spokesperson, played down its import, “The Bill has not yet become an Act, and any legislation from Karnataka will take into account the INC (Indian National Congress) President’s and public view on the issue,” she said.

Karnataka is not the sole example. State governments controlled by opposition political parties that have resisted making Aadhaar mandatory are doing the contrary by making the biometric identification a necessity for services and benefits provided by the states.

The left dilemma

Take Kerala. Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in the state’s 2017 information technology (IT) policy, said it was commendable that more than 90% of Keralites had been enrolled under Aadhaar. The IT Policy has a segment on ‘Digital Identity’ and the government initiating action for universal Aadhaar enrollment linking all government data bases.

Kerala’s Left Democratic Front (LDF) government led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) made Aadhaar mandatory for the state’s Service and Payroll Administrative Repository in December 2017. It is also working on an E-Health programme in which health records will be indexed to the Aadhaar number.

The central leadership of the CPM is opposing Aadhaar. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury is consistently tweeting on the perils of Aadhaar linking. Brinda Karat, a politburo member of the CPM, said the party is completely opposed to Aadhaar. Asked about the apparent contradiction between the party’s stand and the Kerala government’s, she said, “State governments are being forced by the centre to make Aadhaar mandatory for every scheme. We are supporting the petition against Aadhaar in the Supreme Court. Where is the question of the LDF government supporting it?”

Opinion | Aadhaar must not be made mandatory for any purpose

Last week, the Aam Aadmi Party that governs Delhi decided to put on hold a decision to allow the distribution of subsidised foodgrain through Aadhaar. But it has continued with the mandatory linking of Aadhaar with the Ladli Scheme, an initiative of the previous Congress government led by Sheila Dikshit aimed at promoting girl child empowerment through financial incentives.

AAP spokesperson Ashutosh Says that Aadhaar as a concept works. “However, the way it is implemented and pushed by the NDA government is questionable, especially on the privacy front.” However, a big exception to this dichotomy is Trinamool Congress and its government in West Bengal where Aadhaar has not been made mandatory for any of the state government schemes.

Explaining dual standards

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is only too pleased by the inconsistency of opposition parties and the state governments they control. BJP’s national spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao says that the opposition to Aadhaar is political in nature. “If the Congress was not convinced of the advantages of Aadhaar, why did they ever begin it in the first place? Why was this investment and infrastructure put up? This just shows their hypocrisy,” Rao said. But what about the BJP’s own shifting stance on Aadhaar, which it once opposed? Rao claims the BJP could have said that Aadhaar is a legacy of the Congress-led UPA and discontinued it. “But we did not want to make a political issue out of it. We had a positive approach and are making sure that Aadhaar is used to arrest leakages (in government welfare programmes).”

Yogendra Yadav, president of Swaraj India, a socio-political organisation that began on 14 April 2015, says that a party’s stance on Aadhaar tends to vary with where its lawmakers sit in state assemblies — in opposition or in the treasury benches. “In opposition, they play the role of the opposition and oppose Aadhaar, talk about perils and highlight issues. When they are governing in states, they implement it and highlight the advantages of Aadhaar,” Yadav said.

Political analyst Manisha Priyam says that going ahead, any large party will have two views on Aadhaar. “As a concept, they could like Aadhaar. However, given the ground implementation, exclusion and privacy concerns, a unitary approach will call for a backlash from people, which no party can afford,” Priyam said.

Political parties will increasingly grapple with this dichotomy and Aadhaar will become a big issue in the next general election, she said.

First Published: Mar 02, 2018 07:45 IST