Left-leaning activists crying themselves hoarse over Aadhaar are being delusional.
The Supreme Court has rightly raised questions about the “excessive delegation” of powers to the Unique Identification Authority of India. This is in consonance with the Apex Court’s pro-liberty propensity as evident in its 2015 verdict invalidating the draconian Section 66A of the Information Technology Act and the more recent ruling announcing privacy as a fundamental right. But there is considerable dissonance, if not downright hypocrisy, in the stand of many litigants and activists opposing Aadhaar.
On Wednesday, a Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, posed tough questions to Attorney General K.K. Venugopal. Referring to Section 2(g) of the Aadhaar Act, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and asked Venguopal to define the words “such other biological attributes”. Section 2(g) says, “biometric information means photograph, fingerprint, iris scan, or such other biological attributes of an individual as may be specified by regulations”.
There are very genuine concerns indeed, correctly put by the judge: “The Act leaves it open to the government to add any biological attributes. Today you may not, but tomorrow with the growth of technology, you may decide to add DNA, etc.”
However, when some of the petitioners say such things to masquerade as the champions of freedom, one feels incensed. In February, for instance, senior Congress leader, advocate, and former Union minister Kapil Sibal had argued in the Supreme Court that with the Aadhaar biometric identification system, the government is creating “a monolith, a system with no choices”. Similarly, in the next month his party colleague and another former Union minister P. Chidambaram had opposed Aadhaar.
Come to think of it, these two guys were top ministers when the illiberal Section 66A was introduced; now they are talking “choices”. There was a time when Chidambaram would openly threaten reporters; he would complain to the owners of media organisations, often telling them to sack the journalists who asked uncomfortable questions. It happened to one of my friends, but he survived because the media baron concerned was not spineless. And today the former Finance Minister has the cheek to preach us about the virtues of liberty, democracy, and tolerance. Seldom was sanctimoniousness as brazen.
While the politician-lawyers are just being hypocritical, Left-leaning activists crying themselves hoarse over Aadhaar are also being delusional. They rail against Aadhaar on the grounds that it violates privacy. But their rants sound hollow, for the real problem is the statist policies that they have long favoured, and often imposed on the country. It is a well-acknowledged fact that statism and socialism invariably end up marginalising, diminishing, even killing the individual. Intrusion into privacy is implicit in the logic of welfare state. All they want to establish is a welfare state, even though the state per se is, to use their phraseology, has been withering, what with a dysfunctional Parliament, an incompetent and corrupt executive, and an overburdened judiciary.
At the heart of the issue is the dilemma of Left-liberals: on the one hand, they want to keep augmenting entitlements—a process that is predicated upon the ever-increasing size and scope of government; and, on the other, they want the citizens to enjoy all the freedoms that the people in Western countries do. In a way, they want India to have the best of the erstwhile Soviet Union and America.
The truth, however, is that the things that are diametrically opposed to each other have a meeting point. A follower of Hafiz Saeed can’t be a Gandhi devotee, a wine connoisseur can’t be a teetotaller, a libertine can’t be a celibate—and entitlements can’t coexist with limited government. But the likes of Jean Drèze, a Belgium-born pink economist, believe otherwise. And yet he laments that, as he wrote in an article in The Indian Express (8 May 2017), “India is at risk of becoming a surveillance state.”
This is surprising from somebody who played a key role in birthing the abomination called NREGA. I call it an abomination because it makes serfs out of free individuals, making them perpetually look askance at the gigantic feudal lord called the Indian state. It was people like Dreze who began the enslavement of the poor in the name of their liberation. Freedom is, after all, slavery; remember 1984? It was an Orwellian endeavour they began; now they are aghast that somebody they hate so intensely, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has taken charge of the enterprise.
Congress luminaries and parlour pinks are right in saying that Aadhaar is potentially dangerous; it can transform India into a surveillance state (assuming it already isn’t one, primarily because of the misdeeds of the pre-Modi regimes). But then, as former US President Gerald R. Ford said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”
In a nutshell, you can’t get welfare without surveillance, for surveillance is embedded in welfare state.