Modes of Inclusion (Democratic): Elections as States of Exception

This is the final post thinking about an important recent lecture given by the former Chief Election Commissioner of India, S. Y. Qureshi, at the Center for South Asia Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. A first post focused on what I termed narratives and practices of heroic inclusion; a second on the experimental transformation of the EPIC voter identification system into a biometric database, and the resulting conflicts between government agencies over their own administrative data preserves. The general point is to think about the range of sites where specific registers of “inclusion” operates as a dominant mode of governance, about the sites of conflict between modes of inclusion, and about the forms of lives and worlds and politics that come into being around these particular modes.

The Chief Election Commissioner talked at some length about the Model Code of Conduct, and so I want to follow his lead and think carefully about this “model code” in relation to law.

Not law but model

What is a model code of conduct? The term raises legal questions I will defer for now but will want to return to. Here I look at sections of the 2007 Model Code of the Electoral Commission.

At the outset, I want to think about several points made in the lecture:

(1) the Model Code is not statutory: it is not, that is, a body of law. It lacks the force of law. And, presumably, it lacks the checks and balances put in place in and with the law. Or put conversely, it has the power of a body of law-like codes, norms, and practices that are effective precisely in the exceptional condition of being outside the law.

I think here of the work of many scholars, including Laura Nader on mediation in the US and Katherine Lemons on a range of law-like forms of marital and religious judgment and counseling in India that stand outside the formal apparatus of Personal Law. I think also of the UIDAI itself: the debate over it, particularly when administrative preserves of data and control over these are at stake, is of course that it, too, lacks statutory authority: that Universal ID as a form of governance is not grounded in law, or only barely, depending on who and what one reads.

So my interest, in part, lies in the formal congruities (and their limits) between the EC and UID as exceptional apparatuses of inclusion through identification and information capture.

(2) The model code is powerful in its promotion of order: Dr. Qureshi offered multiple examples of how the EC and it’s code were able to trump the usual “nexus” of politicians, parties, police, and what in India are often termed “vested interests.” He spoke again and again of the importance of “order” in providing fair and accessible democracy. He referred to a critic of the model code’s many rules forbidding posters, loudspeakers, and other advertisements for a candidate near a polling station, who he said complained that the EC had taken “the carnival” out of democracy.  He responded, he told the audience, that he would be happy to bring the carnival over to her home and to see how she then felt.

The form here is reminiscent, again, of debates over privacy and UID. UID is charged with violated privacy rights: its defenders and architects suggest that such concerns are elitist and that the aam aadmi, the ordinary person, cares about food, shelter, and clothing. The elite critic who presumably lives in a sheltered environment can easily call for the carnivalesque: the stakes for those who strive for non-existent order are otherwise. The point, again, is not to accede to this claim but to attend to the ubiquity of the form.

The idea of a firm order outside of law that guarantees the law is suggestive of a series of debates in political theory about sovereignty leading from Carl Schmidt to Hannah Arendt to Giorgio Agamben. If sovereign is he [sic] who wields the exception, if the sovereign can kill without that death being either a crime (negative value) or a sacrifice (positive value), then the conception of a sovereign entails a form of life that can be ended as if it carried none of the distinguishing qualities of human life within a legal, ethical, and civil frame, as if it were just “bare life.” For Agamben, in a formulation that would later be carefully qualified, a classical conception of the sovereign demanded a distinctive “zone of indistinction” in which the difference between civil life (that cannot be killed without it being a sacrifice or crime) and bare life (that can be killed without what I am terming a shift in value) could not be maintained. Famously, Agamben would reread Foucault’s concept of biopolitics as a radical enlargement of the zone of indistinction between civil and bare life in the figure of the statistically established population.

This last paragraph is a quick rehash: the point is to open up thinking about what kind of exception the model code might entail, and to what extent if any it addresses “life” in ways relevant to this line of thinking. What is intriguing about the EC is its own standing in some kind of legal exception. The model code of conduct emerges as more powerful, in the time of elections, than the nexus of interests itself, the latter ever threatening to deform civil society: it emerges as the sole bulwark against the nexus. And yet the model code, guaranteeing law (and, as the Chief Election Commissioner repeatedly noted, “order,” stands in arguable exception to the rule of law, lacking as he noted firm statutory authority. As I noted above, the form of the exception is repeated, perhaps, in the often debated status of UIDAI as lacking statutory authority. But whereas the EC is celebrated as the bulwark of democratic norms set agains the ever present threat of the nexus, and the forces of disorder that this ubiquitous figure invokes, the UID troubles and affirms in equal measure, depending on the interlocutor.

The Idea of a Model

What may be important is the general form of a “model” code, in and around law and specifically in and around the law of India. Caught in the moment of ignorance (the general modus operandi of this blog as it lurches from topic to topic), let me reflect for now on the temporal register, in general, of a model as coming after a pre-existing form (as in a scale model of something, say a ship or the Taj Mahal) or before, anticipating and preparing for a possibility (as in the modeling that plans for structures and events). The dominant register of the model code is the latter: the code serves as the model for a democratic practice it anticipates and (re)forms. But it may, in a particularly (and familiar) post-colonial idiom, evoke an imagined order of colonial liberal governance as a rationalized system of order ever keeping the nexus at bay.

Models also, as the figure of the ‘scale model’ above illustrates, play with the scale of the gigantic and miniature. I am not sure how to think with this feature of modeling, save that the lecture that this blog draws from kept moving from enormity (India itself, and the realized demand for the inclusion of its “mass” population) to minuteness (the single voter in a far-off jungle reserve, or the tiny outpost in the Himalayan vastness).

The Model Code Itself

Let me close with a few sections of the code, with brief notes.

A Party is that which agrees to Norms

The primary actor here is the Party and then the Candidate. What is at stake here is a grammar of the nexus.

Impersonation and intimidation: two logics of nexus power

Impersonation is a particular form of duplication; intimidation acts on the original. If the EC sees its exceptional powers as operating on both registers, UIDAI arguably focuses on the former, as technically remediable, and evades the latter.

The biopolitical double

I conclude with this Question and Answer within the FAQ section that is far longer than the formal Model Code itself.  Can an administration, ruled by a particular Party running for office during an election, hold an event designed to save or preserve mass life? Here the question is in regards to tuberculosis. These sorts of questions appear regularly during election seasons, and the reportage holds open a tension between a political system that is thanatopolitical–that is, that does nothing effective to address the mass morbidity of a governed population for most of the non-electoral season–and an EC that is overstepping its commitment to its Code–that is, that would prevent a life-saving event in the name of abstract norms that do not take into account the precarious life of most citizens.

Part 1 – Citizenship and its archive today: the intensely duplicated de-duplicate

Who or what is the subject of contemporary identity, and what politics ensue in the face of this emergent subject? This question, is the central one that this experiment cum blog seems to find itself addressing.

Zipless encounters with the identification establishment

Before I begin with a comment I will stretch out over two or more posts, I might for this entry recount a conversation I had with a fellow scholar this past week, who was telling me of her experience in signing up for the UID/Aadhaar card. What made it so easy, she said, was that I did not need to bring any documents.

Look how easy!: Bihar leaders show their UID registration papers

Her experience runs against many of the reports of UID registration covered in news articles and elsewhere. For the moment and taking her account seriously, let me presume that the question of using biometrics, big data, and the rationalized and deterritorialized reorganization of welfare to generate trust—the promise of UID in a nutshell—itself enters into a world in which preexisting ecologies of risk and trustworthiness produce differing modes of entrance into UID’s promise.
In the case of this one person, the mode of entrance was entirely friction-free. To borrow a favorite adjective from Erica Jong, it appeared “zipless.”

I am presuming that such zipless encounters are not evenly distributed. But suspending for the moment my hermeneutic of suspicion, the social fact (if that is what it is) of the ease of entrance into Aadhaar is worth thinking with. I will be reading both Akhil Gupta‘s and Matthew Hull‘s recent books in the next few weeks. Both differently attend to the relation of bureaucracy to the materiality and force of the document, extending a conversation Annaliese Riles, Laura Bear, and Emma Tarlo among others have engendered. But the claim advanced to me, by and for a certain kind of subject, was for a relation to entitlement and belonging that required no documents. Whatever its relation to actual practice, as such the claim bears attention.

This scholar made two other points. First, she noted that such zipless ease could be manipulated. It is fine for people like you and I, she said, and I should note that these words are my reconstruction of a conversation some hours after it took place, but others could create duplicate numbers. Her use of the duplicate was perhaps a response to my own mention, earlier, of my growing interest in de-duplication as a mode of governance.

If I am correct in reading the implicit theory of value and the state in the project of Aadhaar as a dual diagnosis of ‘duplication from above’ [the redirection of the common wealth by the powerful through the creation of phantom populations that receive entitlement monies or materials] and ‘duplication from below’ [the redirection of the common wealth by the ‘common man’ or janata manipulating the varied identities given one by the state], then taking this scholar’s concern seriously produces a middle-subject [there must be some useful expression of this in German, say] that can be trusted not to duplicate itself and that can, therefore, be granted ID ziplessly. Or rather, all subjects may variably make claims on their status as such a middle-subject.

My interlocutor made another point. The agency that registered her, pleasant and unencumbered by documents though it was, could answer few of her questions.  Simply put, its employees seemed to have little understanding of the UID number or its use. Their sphere of competence focused on the technical practice of registration and not the afterlife of that enrollment.

For the moment, and as with the earlier points with awareness of the limits of a single conversation, we might define what is at stake here as a particular temporality of enrollment or registration. Aadhaar, that is, may seem to bear a particular relation to the present, with its relation to what after Jane Guyer I will term the near future in question.

If the scholar suggested the limit to a unitary process of enrollment, given the distinction between the middle-subject (always already de-duplicated) and the duplicating, cheating subject, we might attend to how the figure of the Universal Subject of “Universal ID,” the basis [“aadhaar”] of the promise of a national telos of fairness, reason, and wealth, may always already contain within itself a doubling or duplication, a split subject that will threaten to defeat the very project of universalizing, de-duplicating technology.

Intensities of duplication

Continuing with the Hyderabad-based UIDAI fraud, the following report suggests that the city and perhaps the selfsame group of former and current IL&FS employees have been a major site for the production of fraudulent Aadhaar numbers [one lakh, for those unfamiliar with South Asia, is 100,000].

The Post Office against duplication

50k untraced Aadhaar cards returned

“Untraced addresses” plague Aadhaar card project in the state. Post offices have sent back nearly 50,000 Aadhaar cards to the UIDAI stating that they could not trace the addresses. This has led to complaints that Aadhaar cards were registered with fake addresses. Interestingly, majority of the cards that were sent back were issued in Hyderabad. These cards are lying undelivered with several post offices in the city for nearly a year.

The postal department has communicated to the civil supplies department expressing its inability to deliver Aadhaar cards due to wrong addresses and informed that it has returned them to UIDAI. The civil supplies department is the nodal agency for implementing the Aadhaar project in the state. Following this, the department has directed all the enrolment agencies to be extra cautious while submitting address details of people in the online system during the second phase of Aadhaar enrolments, which began recently, after a two-and-a-half month break, in February.

“People not residing in the addresses specified can be understood for reasons like shifting from rented houses, transfer of jobs etc. But, the non-existence of addresses itself is a serious issue. This shows that the enrolment agencies have submitted Aadhaar online details without verifying correct addresses,” said an official of civil supplies department. Though the UIDAI had established about 3,000 enrolment centres in AP, till date only 3.5 crore people have been enrolled and around 4 crore people are yet to be enrolled.

In Hyderabad, the centres have managed to enrol nearly 42 lakh citizens. Over 8 lakh people in the city are yet to be enrolled, though most of those who have enrolled are yet to receive their cards. In addition, people who already enrolled for the cards a year ago have not received them so far. The enrolment agencies are not maintaining a serial number for people who belong to the same family. With this, while some members within the same family have got cards, others did not.

The helpline provided by UIDAI is also not serving the desired purpose with people complaining that it was confined to register only complaints and no solution is being provided for getting Aadhaar cards.

One might attend, first, to the obvious: the problem is not that there are criminals–such is to be expected–but that the scale of this duplication was not caught by any audit on behalf of UIDAI itself but rather and only by the post office.

But the basic point I would like to attend to is that an entire city, Hyderabad, has been indemnified here, as what we might call a zone or an intensity of duplication.

Rather than see duplication as either a static condition of corruption and de-duplication as a contrastive force, we might think of duplication as a variable intensity with a contingent relation to space, here the city of Hyderabad.

If I were paranoid, I might want to attend more sharply to this city’s particular signification through figures of the “Islamicate,” in a context where for example in late 19th and in particular early 20th century Urdu is portrayed through gendered figures of artifice [duplication]. But I have not seen the media engagement with the scandal or its particular spatial intensities turn to any such racialization. Perhaps more salient is the city’s importance as a center of IT labor and thus as a site for proliferating cultures of virtuality, hacking, and so forth.

“Aadhaar Fraud”: a case study in Hyderabad

After a hiatus, the Aadhaar project is back. I’ll try to keep the posts short, 15 minute efforts, and in keeping with the idea behind the blog: brief engagements with the question of the duplicate and the forms of political engagement produced as the citizen is replaced by the registrant, across a series of sites. Please see my early posts to see the project as it unfolds.

Hyderabad, the standard view

Aadhaar and UID are premised on a claim termed de-duplication: the elimination of fraud, inefficiency, and corruption in the relation of the state both to individuals and the “nexus” of the powerful. Aadhaar’s claim rests on it not just being yet another source for “duplicate” identity: so questions of Aadhaar fraud strike more powerfully at the rationale of the entire program than similar allegations of fraud elsewhere.What may be key to observe is not the incidence of such fraud, unsurprising given the financial stakes being tied to UID, but its governance: its publicity, forensics, and the forms of institutional reorganization that such cases do or do not set in motion.

Here is one such case, from the Times of India news network, June 17, 2012.The author is Mahesh Buddi.

HYDERABAD: Seven persons, including four Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd (IL&FS) employees and a ration shop dealer, have been booked by the police in the Aadhaar card fraud.

Police have named Shaik Afsar, a former data entry operator of IL&FS from Talabkatta, as the prime accused. He was assisted in committing the fraud by Shabbir, technical co-ordinator, and Imran, supervisor of the Aadhaar card registration project by IL&FS in Old City.

Police zeroed in on Afsar after UIDAI confirmed that all the authorization fingerprints used for the enrollment of the 60 persons in biometric exception category were his. Afsar, who used to work as a data entry operator with IL&FS, had quit the job in August 2011.

Subsequently, he was approached by Gopal, a ration shop dealer (shop number 256) of Talabkatta, who sought new Aadhaar cards in the names given by him. Afsar, who had already quit his job, took the help of an Aadhaar card broker Rafiq and lured Shabbir and Imran to lend him an authorised laptop (No: 20193 – Baba Nagar enrollment office) used by IL&FS to do Aadhaar registrations for a few days.

Using the laptop, Afsar had done 60 fake entries under the physically disabled category between October 14 and 29, 2011. Police found that Gopal had asked for only 13 Aadhaar cards on specific names so that he could continue to utilise the set of fake ration cards available with him even after government makes Aadhaar mandatory for drawing essential items at ration shops. Gopal had paid Afsar Rs 4,000 for the job.

Police are yet to ascertain on whose request and for what purpose Afsar had done the rest of the fake registrations. After the probe, the investigating officers have named two top IL&FS officials, Yashwant and Vinay, as accused for knowingly ignoring the fraud.

Police have seized the laptop and took some of the accused into custody. However, prime accused Afsar has gone to Oman in March 2012 for employment and police are planning to issue a red corner notice against him. “So far, UIDAI has given details of enrollment related to 60 cards and we have finished the probe in that regard. As 30,000 more such registrations are there, the list of accused might increase and we will do further probe once UIDAI gives us details,” a Charminar police officer said.

So, three quick points:

1) Governance: The “police” and “UIDAI” here are seen to work in tandem as the forensic apparatus. Who, and how, exactly? Much to learn. The police are represented at the local level (the Charminar, old city station): where and how UIDAI operates and at what level of scale is unclear. The other major player here is the subcontracted private corporation that was functioning as a Registrar for persons to receive the card in Hyderabad, IL&FS. Several officials of the latter are accused of knowing of the violation and not acting.What is striking in the reportage are the details: we are told which laptop was used and which ration shop was involved, in case case being offered the exact number of the registered (computer, shop) item. This intrigues me.

2) Networks: This illegal operation would extend pre-existing forms of duplication in the ration card business to the new Aadhaar card: a local shopkeeper appears to be trying to extend his ability to game the system by building on local networks linking the skills of data entry and data access; the machines that serve as portals into the system; and the varied outsourcers (here IL&FS) that drive the actual creation of data. These networks are specific to Hyderabad, and at least two senses of scale and of relation are offered: the dense, scaled-down, local, and here largely Muslim world of the old city; and the transnational movement of labor and forensic claims that link Hyderabad to Oman and the Gulf states more generally.

3) Number: It is not clear what the scale of the violation is. We are given a possible number of 60. But an upper limit of 30000 suggests that the trouble with Aadhaar may be far more widespread. We are left with little ability to work between the numbers.