When Jairam Ramesh was asked to clear his stand on Aadhaar

Last week I attended a session on “Aadhaar- Dystopia or Utopia” in Bangalore lit fest. The moderator of the discussion who was writing a book on this subject began with a question to Mr. Jairam Ramesh –

“Sir, you have been one of the originators of the Aadhaar, the idea was first proposed by your ministry, but now you have turned out one of the fiercest critic of Aadhar. Where do you stand now?”

“I am not in a TV debate that I need to clear my stand” – Mr. Ramesh responded.

But the question kept coming back, the moderator was relentless in repeating that question.

Finally Mr. Ramesh responded on lighter note – “In parliamentary democracy you stand where you sit”.

The response was an indirect admission that the logic changes in politics based on which side of treasury bench one is. It was also an honest assessment as to why there are so many opposition voices for Aadhaar today.

To be fair to Mr. Ramesh, he did try to explain why he hates the program that he was an architect of. His principal argument was that Aadhar was planned only for government benefits schemes to solve the problem of leakages. He believed that the Aadhaar should have been limited for things like pension, subsidies and welfare schemes for rural people in particular.

His second argument was- technology is not foolproof. Some old people were inconvenienced while getting Aadhar biometric captured. But being an IIT graduate he himself was not convinced of his own logic. A passport can be faked, so can be a PAN card. If anything, the Aadhaar was far more difficult to fake. No technology can be fool proof ever, but it serves the purpose if it is a better tool than the prevailing process.

His third argument was the law was not ready before the implementation. The law should have been passed in 2010 but got delayed till 2016. But wasn’t it his own failing – “his ministry should have waited till the enactment of law.”  His defense “I only okayed for a small scale pilot program and not the real implementation”; it was a very weak argument because the UIDAI has been envisaged for a massive plan from day 1.

So when did he start hating the program?

It was sometime in 2014, when the new government picked up the legacy of the previous government and apparently tried to make a monster out of Aadhaar- in bank account, tax filing, direct benefit transfer and even telephones. The most convenient reason- even the BJP government opposed Aadhaar when they were in opposition. So Mr Ramesh’s change of view should not be seen from any particular interest.

From the lense of banking technologies, I believe Aadhar is the base that sets India apart on the world stage. UPI architecture is today the envy of most developed countries in the world. It is a unique program that will propel India faster on digital wave. I still can’t understand the issue of privacy that many people are perturbed so much. We are all happy to knowingly or unknowingly give all our data to Facebook and Google without even blinking an eye. At every click of at FB and Google we are sending our personal data to unknown consequences. We can at least sue our government for Aadhaar misuse if they fail in their custodial duties, can we sue Facebook and Google? We don’t even know what data laws and jurisdiction govern them?

Finally in the end, one from the audience asked a point blank question “shall we refuse to comply with the government mandate like linking PAN or bank account etc.?”

Thankfully Mr. Ramesh did not suggest him to defy the parliament enacted law. He said – “please don’t defy it, follow it wherever it has been mandated but fight it out after complying – in the media, court, public opinion etc.” The audience clapped and the session ended.

#Aadhaar #Blrlitfest #DigitalIndia

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