Atanu Dey On India's Development

For everything else, you must have the unique ID.

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Quick question: In the near future, what is that one thing that the government of India will allow the people living within the borders of India to do without having the unique ID number? Think for a bit. I know it is hard to imagine an action you would be free to do without that number. You will need that number to get anything done at all. The government is working hard towards making it impossible for its citizens (and even non-citizens living in India) to move a finger without the express consent of the government. But I kid you not, there is one thing that you will be able to, as before, without having that unique ID.

I think you can die without the ID. For everything else, you have to have that number.

But let’s get some details. I have been reading about the unique identifier program that the government of India is working on for many months. It is a scheme that aims to uniquely identify people living in India. How that is humanly possible to do is unclear to me. But I suppose I will have to defer to those who know more about it. One such is Mr Nandan Nilekani, co-chairman of Infosys Technologies, India’s second-largest outsourcing firm. Mr Nilekani was given a government of India cabinet minister’s rank as the chairman of the National Unique ID project.

Mind you, having the UID number is completely voluntary, as Mr Nilekani explains. You don’t have to have it. It’s your choice. It’s not mandatory, as Mr Nilekani says. Of course, you’ll have to have the number if you want to open a bank account, or get a passport, or get a job, or . . . do anything at all — except dying, as I mentioned above. I am not making this up. I am not that smart.

“When you to get a passport, they will say where is your UID number, when you go to get a driving licence, they will say where is your UID number, when you go to tax, they will say where is your UID number, you go to open a bank account, they will say where is your UID number. Sooner or later you will have to get your UID number,” Nilekani told PTI in an interview.

He said that in the coming years, all the above mentioned documents will start displaying the UID number, which proposes to weed out duplicate identities in the system, and hence the “number will become pervasive and ubiquitous. It will become embedded in all these documents.”

He said, “It is not mandatory but more applications will make it a prerequisite. So sooner or later your life becomes simpler if you have the number.”

Let me repeat. Having the number is not mandatory. Getting it is entirely voluntary. You cannot go for a c**p without that number but c**ping is voluntary, is it not? That scheme definitely does not present you with a Hobson’s choice. Nor does it impale you on Morton’s fork. As a free resident of a free country, you are free to do whatever you want — provided you have the government’s permission.

Sooner or later, the government will have total control over you. I seem to recall from the history books that Indians struggled to overthrow an oppressive foreign government. Mr Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, I am led to believe, fasted several times and threatened to kill himself. A suicide faster, if you please. The foreign government was controlling Indians. That was bad. What Indians wanted was control by domestic leaders, not foreign leaders. The foreign government was scared of suicide fasting. So they left. Regular involuntary fasting (starvation and malnutrition is fairly commonplace to merit any comment) is not as potent as suicide fasting. Anyway, the foreign government left, leaving the job of controlling the Indians to Indian hands. So the people elected Gandhi to control them.

Of course, I know it is not Mr MK Gandhi they elected. He died. But his dead hand — or name actually — is sufficient for the Indians. They vote for his descendants through Indira Gandhi. Of course I know that Mrs Indira Gandhi is not related to Mr MK Gandhi by blood. But that’s a minor detail that does not disrupt the simple logic of “Gandhi — independence — divine mandate to rule.” So now that Indians with the name Gandhi control Indians, it is good. The name matters, not whether one is a foreigner or not. You can be a Martian for all intents and purposes; but if you are associated with the Gandhi name, you are a shoe-in for controlling the Indians. That’s special, isn’t it.

Anyway, let’s all bow to our overlords. They know what’s best for us. They are the dispensers of India’s destiny. Bharat bhagya vidhata, as the national anthem goes.

  • AG

    The way things are going in india these days has become a tragic comedy.

    The chinese are damming the brahmaputra, but the media is talking about rahul gandhi’s dimples.

    Obama (yes, the great — err, not so white hope) is giving pakistan 7.9 bn dollars to make fireworks to sell to india. And the government is talking about ‘optional’ ‘complusory’ universal id cards.

    Naxals and maoists — with definite communist links — are dismembering the country and intellectuals are talking about “genuine grievances” that makes them behead security personnel.

    The 1 year anniversary of 26/11 is nearly upon us. Sandeep Unnikrishnan is dead, kasab is alive, in a kangaroo trial.

    Vinaash kaale vipareet buddhi. Atanu — head back to the US, at least you have the option!

  • Sridhar

    Atanu, hope to see another post on UID from you. From what I can read here, you seem to think it is unnecessary and restrictive. Wondering if your position has changed since this post. Isn’t it fascinating that every Indian can have a UID like that of SSN in the US? I think the most important thing about issuing UIDs to all its citizens is about the govt recognizing all of them no just by a decennial census count but my making them part of a central database giving them an unquestionable individual identity and right to entitlement of various govt services irrespective of citizen’s bargaining capacity or position on social or economic ladder.

    Both the govt and private sector use SSN extensively in the US. Apart from the convenience of unquestionable identity, a single form of identity means – a great source of intelligence for governments (keep aside the goood versus evil intentions of govts) to keep track of individual crimes or wrongdoings.

    The biometric part of UID is needless and avoidable but that is the premium made necessary for hosting one of the most corrupt and inefficient bureaucracies of the world.

    Hoping to hear your comments. Thank you!