Sunday, October 21, 2012

Aadhaar vs Voter ID

On Saturday, the Prime Minister launched the Aadhaar-enabled service delivery initiative in 51 districts across the country. It will be used for making pension payments, MNREGA payments, PDS distribution, scholarship payments and other social welfare schemes. As per the Prime Minister, the intended beneficiaries include 5 crore MNREGA workers, 1.5 crore students who avail of scholarships, 2 crore old age pensioners, and 3 crore families who get medical facilities. The Aadhar will also serve  as identity proof for opening bank accounts, gas and mobile connections etc, says the Prime Minister.

Could the Voter Identity card not have served the same purpose?

In a democracy, it is of utmost importance that elections invite the widest possible participation from voters and that voting be seen as participation in nation building and a primary duty of every citizen. Indian democracy suffers from many ills, not the least of which is the apathy and non participation in the electoral process of millions and millions of voters, specially those who belong to the educated middle class. If the voter identity card were made the most important document that a citizen could possess, there would be a sea change in the attitude that citizens have towards participation in the electoral process. They would begin to look at the Voter card and the attendant electoral process not as an optional activity to be undertaken at one's leisure, if at all, but as an integral part of a citizen's life. If mobile connections, gas connections, bank accounts, social welfare benefits, registration of property transactions, college admissions, stock transactions, high value purchases of consumer goods etc etc required that the Voter Identity card be presented, it would become imperative for citizens to obtain a Voter Identity card. It would be viewed then as a document as necessary to one's existence as the Ration Card once was ----- and the frequent excuse trotted out by many that they do not vote because they do not have a Voter ID card would no longer hold valid. All the demographic and bio metric information that is now being included in Aadhar could become embedded in the Voter ID card, and serve the same purposes ---- proof of identity, and a fail-safe method of preventing identity fraud and leakages of social welfare benefits.

Over the last two years, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has generated over 20 crore Aadhaar numbers and it is mandated to cover 60 crore people by March 2014. There are roughly 80 crore voters in India. Had the time, money and effort spent on Aadhar been expended on streamlining the process of obtaining Voter Identity cards, providing each and every Indian eligible to vote with a Voter ID card, and making the ID cards multi functional, Indian democracy would have benefited and there would have been far less controversy and opposition vis a vis the project.

What we will now have in Aadhar is an identity card that possesses greater utility than the Voter ID card, and is far easier to obtain. Even more than before, the indifference towards the need to get registered as a voter will flourish, and in the absence of such registration, participation in the electoral process will remain at its current low levels. The middle class will continue to watch  exposes of corrupt practices on television, extend support to anti corruption crusaders via social media, participate once in a while in protests and rallies, but when clean and competent candidates present themselves, the potential voters will remain glued to television screens, watching election analyses, and not be seen at polling booths casting their votes.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

jana gana mana

 It was a primarily female audience, mothers, daughters, friends, who had decided to catch the morning show of English Vinglish. There were teenaged, giggling girls, elderly women with walking sticks, young mothers, and chiffon clad grandmothers. The excited girls in the row ahead of mine were practicing whistling ----- Sridevi's come back deserved to be thus welcomed, they said. 

Having settled down with a coffee to enjoy the movie, I was a little taken aback when I heard the request to all movie patrons to stand up for the National Anthem. Plonking my coffee on the floor, I rose to my feet, as did my mother and many others, some with alacrity, some a little slowly as they struggled to their feet. There were some in the audience, however, who remained seated -----the young girls who had been rather loud and vociferous before the announcement was made.

I am still trying to comprehend why this happened. Is it because schools and colleges have almost completely stopped playing the national anthem during the daily/periodical assembles so that the sheer force of habit no longer works in the case of our school/college going youth? Is it because there is a marked decline in the sense of pride in being an Indian? Is it because there is a growing tendency among youth to disobey/ignore directions, no matter what the nature of the direction? 

Whatever the reason, it saddened me to be a witness to such indifference to the national anthem. There are experiences which never fail to stir the heart ----a rendition of the national anthem is one of them if one learns love and regard for it in early childhood.Even as we spend huge amounts of money, time and effort educating our children, let us also make an effort to inculcate in them respect for the national anthem, an inalienable part of our identity.