Modes of Inclusion (Democratic): Electoral heroism

The rather erudite and accomplished S. Y. Qureshi, until this past June (2012) the Chief Election Commissioner of India, gave a lecture this week at Berkeley’s Center for South Asia Studies.

The administrative gesture:              S. Y. Qureshi

Dr. Qureshi’s title was “An Undocumented Wonder: Managing the World’s Biggest Elections.” At stake, in other words, was the management of scale.

And, given the apt description of such enormous scale as wondrous, at stake was what is often termed the sublime. Jawaharlal Nehru famously repositioned the sublime in terming massive dams the temples of modern India. Perhaps elections are the new sublime, the dams of neoliberal India.  And yet elections have been a feature of a national aesthetics for a long time. After the talk I had the opportunity to speak with him at some length.

This post is in conversation with Dr. Qureshi’s formal comments during his talk. Though his informal conversation with me was no less critical in pushing my thinking on biometrics and its associated modes of “inclusion,” I will respect the latter’s informality and confidentiality.

Such caution is not usual for me: I have long argued for an expansive practice in which virtually any encounter is–must be–“fieldwork,”a 24/7 anthropology-as-necessarily-poor-boundaries approach. And obviously, even conversations that cannot be directly represented inform the direction of one’s thinking and work. This growing reliance of mine, however, on caution, withholding discussion, and indirection is I think both a feature of power–of working with high-level officials in situations where both I and they are conscious of the stakes in public representation–and of my own growing dependence on the good will of state administrators as I take on greater responsibility for the Center for South Asia Studies and for research access and funding for students and colleagues.

But I do think that much can be done to think with the formal public lecture, preserving both the hospitality and respect one offers to a visiting speaker and the critical engagement, and again respect, one offers to a reader.

Dr. Qureshi’s comments, accompanied by a power point type slide show, began with accounts of what I will call electoral heroism. I neither use the term ironically nor as paean, but descriptively. Qureshi gave two kinds of examples in which the Electoral Commission [hereafter EC] of India, charged at the Central (federal) government level with organizing, managing, and governing the conduct of elections, went to great pains to ensure that every Indian had access to elections:

(1) situations in which parties of EC workers had to undertake arduous journeys, such as treks over snowy Himalayan paths in Ladakh in weather in which air transport was impossible; and

(2) situations in which even in remote and depopulated areas where only a single voter remained, the EC would establish a polling station.

Radical inclusion: Guru Bharatdas Darshandas, the only voter in Banej in a remote area of the Gir Forest, Gujarat

The effect of such accounts was to remind us of the quality and force of Indian democracy and the at times extraordinary efforts needed to maintain its promise to provide an accessible vote to, quite literally, the last man. In a word, inclusion.

Or last woman: I have earlier written in No Aging in India of the ubiquitous appearance, at election times across India, of news photos of old women hobbling or being carried to the election station or standing at the ballot box, peering at it with the weakened and bespectacled vision of old age. In that book I tried to give something of genealogy for this old woman of the polls, her relation to other figures of old women that proliferate in north India and Bengal over the long nineteenth century. But the simplest explanation for her appearance is the most obvious. In India, she promises, even the most frail or socially marginal person has the power to remake governments and to redistribute power. (Conversely, she can of course be taken in the opposite direction: suggesting that the voter has little more power than a socially marginal and ailing old woman.)

The scene of inclusion: our old woman of the polls

Indeed, Dr. Qureshi showed several such photos of old men and women, particularly women.

It is worth reflecting on the old woman of the polls before proceeding further. She reminds us, first, that “inclusion” is not only a particular gesture of these times of individuated, encompassing neoliberal governance. The newspaper editors who created and circulated her (this image from the late 1980s of an old, frail, bespectacled, and Muslim woman is from the Times of India) were participating in a rendering of the nation-state as a radically inclusive order. She is of course a citizen and the image participates in a particularly Indian secular liberalism founded in the citizen as its ground and promise.

Her form will recur with UID/Aadhaar in a different figure of inclusion but again positioned on an old woman’s body, in scenes of the old woman as marginal subject being de-duplicated by having her irises scanned or photo taken or fingerprint data “captured.”

Inclusion in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh: our old woman of the card

With Aadhaar, of course, the “Resident” has replaced the citizen as the subject of inclusion, as I have discussed at some length in this blog.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the earlier photo of the old woman of the polls is the disembodied spectral hand, evocative of the Beast’s dream palace in Cocteau’s Belle et la Bête, directing the woman’s gaze and ours to the yawning hole where her franchise is to be placed. Inclusion, we are shown, is here a directed process. Who, or what is the agent, the master of inclusion in the dream palace of the nation’s democratic promise?

Here.

Perhaps, as we move from the old woman of the polls to the old woman of the Aadhaar card, this is the wrong question to ask. Again: what concepts, what understanding of politics and “the social,” of ethics and and of maneuver, might be needed as we move from the national subject as a citizenry to the national subject as a database?

Let me return, in the next post, to the lecture by Dr.Qureshi, and to his thoughts on the future of voting and, indeed, on the value of biometrics for the ongoing heroic commitment of the nation to democratic inclusion.

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Invitation to Contract: Assam, Aadhaar, How Governments Now Work

Continuing on a series of posts on the Government of India’s early 2012 decision to keep “insecure” zones of the country like most of the Northeast (particularly its largest state, Assam) out of the Aadhaar/UID biometrics program, to be monitored instead by the more territorialized, security-focused National Population Register (NPR):

Life in the Security Zone: protesters against state evictions, June 2012, Guwahati, Assam

What Is and Is Not in the News

Assam is daily in the news, though the retraction of Aadhaar from the region receives almost no press. Given that Aadhaar has become central to the promissary return of contemporary governance, the card’s appearing to give back secure entitlements to electoral supporters of the ruling coalition (and of the rationalized “corporate-ethical” sector [more on this concept soon] granted increasing control over specific state functions), the withdrawal of this promissary return would seem to generate its own press.  This is absent. I want to understand why.

The first answer is that Aadhaar has become so identified in Assam (and for many across India in relation to Assam in particular) with the “inflitration” of the Bangladeshi migrant into the citizenship and entitlement rolls that its removal generates little remorse among the dominant regional constiuencies of elite media, the media I at this point have access to via the Internet.

But one might expect the emergence of calls for a modified form of biometric registration, one that was not “universal” but separated citizens from mere residents in the dispensation of current entitlement and future promise. At this point I am going to argue that no such calls have emerged that are focused on the “proper” citizenry of Assam or at least no such calls seem to have been able to go public. I may well retract this claim if and when I can find substantial evidence to the contrary.

Such exclusive claims for rights in promissary citizenship in Assam are likely to be of two dominant kinds: rights in law [the Assamese resident and Indian citizen against the illegal migrant] and rights in nature [the Bodo autochthon against the non-Bodo stranger, the latter currently the illegal migrant]. But calls to redraft the form of Aadhaar to shore up these rights do not seem to have intensified with the state’s loss of easy access to UID.

The Assam-focused press is diverse, otherwise. It is devoted to registers of incivility and instability, of state violence and of state welfare in the face of civil violence. It seems both to support and to trouble the anti-migrant sentiment discussed in previous postings. Much national attention on Assam and its capital Guwahati has focused on the recent beating and forced-stripping of a girl in Guwahati this past July by a large group of jeering men, the event apparently captured on video. Many of the responses to the attack on this girl that I have seen on various media are complicit with a racialization of the Assamese as “backward” and somehow categorically unstable: in effect justifying the zonal distribution of modes of biometric control at stake in the division of the country between Security/NPR and Liberalization/UID.

There has been some press as well focused on resistance to government eviction drives against poor urban and rural slumdwellers occupying illegal “hutments.” The news photo above is of a piece with that genre.

None of these events are restricted to Assam–not communal killings, not sexualized violence against women, not the state policy of slum dispossession–but they form part of a mediascape affirming the state’s exceptional status and its exclusion, to use the first pass at a language I developed in the previous post, from the power zone of economic liberalization into the security zone [these terms are not conceptually adequate for many reasons, but for now the point is to focus on a zonal form of doubled or duplicated governance].

Two Orders of Contract?

Most of the documentation available online on Aadhaar in Assam is from the first, earlier moment, before January 2012, the moment when the biometric program’s promise for this marginal state had not been given over to the Security regime of NPR.

Information and reports at least via the Internet quickly dry up after January.

Perhaps the very nature of a security based enterprise like the NPR is that it produces a much smaller penumbra and far fewer traces of itself. Or to put it differently: both security interventions (like NPR) and liberalization interventions (like UID) now depend on a contractual relation between state agencies (like the ministries of home and of finance, respectively) and corporate sector companies to implement the new identity biometrics. But how contracts are established and entered into may differ between power zones and security zones. This post is a first effort to push myself to attend to the specificities of contract in the structuring of government: the emergent history of biometrics, in which twin national database regimes are being established in parallel, suggests that there is not a single pragmatics of contract, a single logic of governance, being crafted.

Having written this, I should note that I do not yet understand how the Interior Ministry’s NPR will work. It is tied to the Census, or has been, so part of the question is the organization of labor, capital, and control of the census over the next decade. I am in part assuming that security apparatuses, no less than other state functions, have throughout the world been given over to contract with privatized capital. But I should be cautious.

A second note of caution: the January 2012 entente between NPR and UID, between Security and Finance, between the Home Ministry and the Planning Commission, involved the powerful then Home Minister Chidambaram, who has recently again been given the Finance Ministry, a position he had earlier occupied. In other words, if the late 2011 struggle over the nation cum database focused on the tussle between these two ministries and presumably their distinct forms of governance over security and economy, how do we understand the movement back and forth of this powerful official?

Chidambaram aside, the very presence of two parallel such logics of governance and two parallel programs of biometric ID may suggest a second order of contract, not the contract between the state agency proposing and the private company executing one or the other mode of biometric inclusion but rather the contract governing the relation between two two orders or modes of registering people biometrically, of financial liberalization versus security.

What Was: Traces of the Earlier Promise of Aadhaar for Assam

The text for today is an RFQ, a Request for Quotation [that is a bid for contract] put out by the Government of Assam in the earlier phase of its relation to Aadhaar. For now I cite only a few small sections.

Invitation to Contract?

GOVERNMENT OF ASSAM DEPARTMENT OF PANCHAYAT & RURAL DEVELOPMENT
TENDER NO. – DPRD/P/183/09-10/127
REQUEST FOR QUOTATION: FOR SELECTION OF UID ENROLMENT AGENCIES FOR THE UID PROJECT (PHASE I) OF GOVT. OF ASSAM
Date of Release of RFQ: 24th Dec, 2010
Date of Pre bid meeting: 10th Jan, 2011, 1430 hrs
Last date of Submission of Bid: 21st Jan, 2011 (Up to 1500 hrs)
Date of Opening of Bid: 21st Jan, 2011 (1600 hrs)
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Vol I: Instruction to Bidders
Vol II: Scope of Work
Vol III: Standard Contracts

Initially in the first phase, the UID project will be implemented in 5 (Five) districts of Assam, i.e Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Sonitpur, Sivasagar and Tinsukia. The Panchayat and Rural Development Deptt. will be Registrar for the districts of Sonitpur, Sivasagar and Tinsukia. Food and Civil supplies Deptt. would be Registrar for the project in Jorhat and Dibrugarh. Accordingly the districts have been clubbed in 2 schedules. The Registrar will implement the project in their districts block wise. Commissioner, P& RD as convener of the sub-committee for selection of Enrolment Agencies is inviting bids for both the schedules.

Under the project all KYR demographic and biometric data as per UIDAI standard would be captured from all residents. In addition data under KYR+ standard as detailed below would also be captured along with KYR data from residents.

The KYR + fields include –
1. Bank Account (which includes Post Office Account also)
2. Job Card No. under MGNREGA
3. RSBY No.
4. BPL (ID)
5. TIN No. (Census)
6. Ration Card No. (AAY/BPL/ FIC/ APL Card)
7. Profession (Service, Self Employed, Cultivator, Labour, Student etc.)
8. Panchayat Name.
N.B.: There might be addition of 4 to 6 more KYR+ fields in the data to be captured which will be notified later. The Project is expected to enroll around 69.26 lakhs residents [6.926 million] by 31st March 2012 (as per projected figure of 2010 population).

2.2 About UID Project
The Government of India (GoI) has embarked upon an ambitious initiative to provide a Unique Identification (UID) to every resident of India and has constituted the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for this purpose. The timing of this initiative coincides with the increased focus of the GoI on social inclusion and development through massive investments in various social sector programs, and transformation in public services delivery through e-Governance programs. The UID has been envisioned as a means for residents to easily and effectively establish their identity, to any agency, anywhere in the country, without having to repeatedly produce identity documentation to agencies. The enrolment is voluntary, More details on the UIDAI and the strategy overview can be found on the website: http://www.uidai.gov.in

The widespread implementation of the UID project needs the reach and flexibility to enroll residents across the country. To achieve this, the UIDAI is following a multiple registrar approach and proposes to partner with a variety of agencies and service providers (acting as Registrars, Sub-registrars and Enrolling Agencies) to enroll residents for UID. By participating in enrolling residents, registrars and enrolment agencies across the country would be part of a truly historic exercise, one which can make our welfare systems far more accessible and inclusive of the poor, and also permanently transform service delivery in India.

In this context, the Registrars shall engage enrolment agencies empanelled by UIDAI for carrying out the various functions and activities related to UID enrolment such as setting up of enrolment centers, undertaking collection of demographic and biometric data for UID enrollment and any other data required by the Registrar for the effective implementation of their projects. This Request for Quotation document is intended to invite bids from only those agencies which are empanelled by UIDAI for undertaking demographic and biometric data collection for enrolment of residents.

That was the prefactory material in the RFQ. 3 quick points, bearing in mind that these suggestions about variant logics of contract are very tentative on my part and far from fleshed out as a conceptual field:

1) Throughout this blog, I have been fascinated by the diagnosis of corruption in history at the core of UID biometrics, that of duplication. The awarding of contracts is among the more important sites of corruption globally and marks many previous and still simmering Indian corruption cases. So the question of variant pragmatics or logics of contract with which I began also raises a question of the “corrupt” duplication of these. Putting it more baldly: when is the invitation within the form of the RFQ in bad faith? How in practice are contracts awarded, entered into, monitored, and broken? If as in many cases of state contracts, the RFQ is a formality and the decision as to which company is chosen is determined by other means (so-called cronyism or what in India is usually called “the nexus,” for example), might we speak of the actual contract as a “duplicate” of the fair and formal contract promised by the RFQ?

2) This particular Assamese invitation [pre-January 2012] to contract may be in bad faith in a second way. Presumably, the aggressive rolling out of UID noted in this document was later shelved with Assam being declared proper not to UID but to NPR: companies invited to bid, and in so doing to invest in becoming registrars, were thus left without a growing market of persons considered proper to UID registration.

3) The document refers to KYR and NYR+ as two sets of information fields that UIDAI-contracted companies collect. From the last post’s documentation, we know a primary difference of UIDAI and NPR is that the latter will collect far more information. In the terms of territorialization and deterritorialization used earlier, UIDAI has more of a deterritorializing imperative.

KYR often stands for Know Your Resident. It is one of a proliferating series in corporate jargon of what we might call the KYX imperatives: Know Your ——. Know Your Customer, Know Your Client, and so forth. The form has been taken to with a vengeance by both business and government agencies in Anglophone India. On the web, one finds sites devoted to Know Your Mobile India, Know Your Visa, Know Your Assessing Officer, and many dozen others. The many ID numbers one receives in moving through the Indian bureaucratic and financial landscape can be accessed through KYX sites: thus Know Your PAN, Know Your TAN, and so forth. There are a range of sites named as Know Your India.

Know Your Resident is an important component of Aadhaar’s relation to territory and its ability to minimize the number of locational fields in service of its vision of liberalization and labor and entitlement rationalization. One apparently non-official site notes: “The strong authentication that the UIDAI will offer, combined with its KYR standards, can remove the need for such individual KYC [Know Your Customer] by banks for basic, no-frills accounts. It will thus vastly reduce the documentation the poor are required to produce for a bank account, and significantly bring down KYC costs for banks. The UIDAI will ensure that the Know Your Resident (KYR) standards don’t become a barrier for enrolling the poor, and will devise suitable procedures to ensure their inclusion without compromising the integrity of the data.”

Again, “Resident” like “Citizen” is effectively placed under erasure by UID/Aadhaar. That is, Aadhaar uses the promise of biometrics to produce a political subject that is resists nomination either as citizen or non-citizen, and yet, the opposition does not go away but hovers in much of the positive and negative discussion of the program. Aadhaar promises both to deterritorialize entitlements, severing the link of access to state programs from the natal or family village and all of the regressive entailments of native place, and to create effective territorialization for Banking, in the sense that the biometric “Resident” will somehow provide the trustworthiness enabling banks to advance credit to marginal actors. How exactly a subject is produced both not in place and in place, both as citizen and as resident, is I think a matter for engaged observation, aka “fieldwork.”

Marrying into the “banking fold”: Aadhaar, the Euro-chip, and the articulation of variant technologies of trust

More today on the use of Aadhaar to produce “financial inclusion” on the margin. I should note at the outset that the point cannot be only to (re) produce a critique of either financial “exclusion” or “inclusion.”

Proto Indo-European technology

Such critique is obviously important but perhaps difficult to sustain too quickly. In anthropology the broader debate may be to place the powerful critique of poverty capital in relation to the production of an unexpected “neoliberal social.” Barring a change in government, a radical curtailment of UID seems unlikely. UID/Aadhaar will continue to be rolled out.  Barring radical and perceptible failure of the program and its effective politicization, certainly possible, the card and number will attach themselves to the administration of more and more entitlements and institutions. The varied effects of UID will be assessed by many agencies and auditors, including (far down the queue) this researcher. Perhaps more than the current situation, of myriad arguably inflated promises of UID’s biometric design and regulation and myriad arguably premature critiques, the emerging field of audit will be critical to engage: what will constitute an event? An effect?

In anticipation of that work, the blog can only aid in the imagination of a research program and its own forms, sites, and constellations of evidence. Blah blah blah.

Today’s text is again from The Hindu, the edition of August 4, and an article posted from Hyderabad. At stake are security technologies for mobile card-based credit, the widespread European chip technology, or EMV [familiar to North Americans who find that their apparently backward and chipless credit cards often fail them in Europe], versus the biometric guarantee of Universal ID and the Aadhaar card. The first is seen as more secure and a proven technology; the second is much more affordable and would lead to the growth of poverty capital through financial inclusion, and with it the “social” promise of presumptively widespread microcredit.The solution may somehow be to “marry” security and inclusion in the production of a new form of trust-bearing identity and thus to bring in the poor to the formal sector financial “fold” while calming concerns about the trustworthiness of the new technology, its bureaucracy, and its economically marginal beneficiaries. This marriage of techniques and forms would somehow copy the effectiveness of the Euro-chip but bypass its prohibitive cost as banking’s potential seems to lie in producing cheaper norms of inclusion.

Choice is between EMV and Aadhaar: RBI Governor

While the chip and pin is a tested technology, Aadhaar based option is cheaper, says D. Subba Rao

Reserve Bank of India Governor D. Subba Rao has underlined the need for taking a decision on the choice between migrating to EMV (Europay-MasterCard-Visa) with chip and pin and an Aadhaar-based biometric authentication.

The chip and pin is an established and tested technology, but is relatively expensive. The Aadhaar based option is cheaper, but the robustness of the technology is as yet unproven. “If indeed we are finally able to marry Aadhaar into the cards, we will be achieving same level of security available in chip and pin model at a much lower cost,” he said.

Dr. Subba Rao was speaking on the topic “Indian Payment and Settlement Systems: Responsible Innovation and Regulation” at the Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technologies here on Friday. Aadhaar was recognised as an alternate authentication mechanism in payment systems and Aadhaar based payment products had already been designed and introduced.

Aadhaar Enabled Payment Systems was aligned with the UIDAI’s plan to utilise the UID number for routing all the Government benefit transfer payments to beneficiaries. AEPS was a bank-led model allowing online transaction through the business correspondent of the respective bank using the Aadhaar identification.

He said the Aadhaar Payment Bridge System was a centralised electronic benefit transfer facilitating disbursement of benefits to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries linked to their Aadhaar numbers. Such transfer would enable secure and efficient disbursal of benefits to intended beneficiaries which, in turn, help in reducing the administrative costs as well as leakages for the government.

This will also further financial inclusion by bringing the beneficiary households into the banking fold,” he said.

Will this Indo-European marriage make it?

For now, one notes the general form of the proposition: that as banking comes to drive Aadhaar, a form that had earlier if still recently migrated away from a territorialized, village or family-based defense model to a more deterritorialized and neoliberal form tied to a vision of rationalized population mobility and wealth creation, norms of “international” (here European) standard security must somehow be reintroduced. Aadhaar is to be “married” to a more secure technology and form, something like the chip and PIN number bank card but without the cost of the chip. What kind of marriage will be arranged is not yet clear. But if Aadhaar, under the ministry of finance, is perceived by security-focused industries and bureacracies as lacking in security, the idea here is that Aadhaar/UID must be combined with something else, not yet specified by these high-level officials.

Killer App: UID, Public Health Defaulters, and the Smartphone Theory of the State

Continuing on the theme of UID as public health tool, today I want to look briefly at a Working Paper on that topic available on the official UIDAI website. The paper makes a case for UID as enabling the expansion of varied welfare schemes using the metaphor of a smart phone.

Choose your metaphor, then…

I am particularly interested in the question of mobility, given the use of UID to address adherence failure due to mobility and migration.  And though I am cautious about overly relying on the logic of the metaphor, the conception of the state as a mobile smartphone is a productive one to work through.

Acknowledgements: I am grateful to Ian Harper and Bharat Venkat, both anthropologists and formidable scholars of TB treatment regimes, for comments they sent me on TB. Ian has critically studied and worked on DOTS [directly observed therapy] programs in Nepal and worldwide for many years; Bharat works in Chennai in a site critical for the formation of what would eventually become DOTS. And earlier comments and contributions by Jerome Whitington, Maria Ekstrand, Ashveer Singh, and Tulasi Srinivas addressed some of the issues at stake here.

The Excluded and the Defaulters: Ian points out: “the ‘migrant labourer’ and the issue of movement has been a particular problem with the DOTS programme from the start, and research in Delhi indicated that unless a patient could prove that they had a ‘permanent’ address, (even with staff visiting their address site to verify that they were there), then they could be denied treatment from the off through the public system… If started, then when they move, and given the lack of follow-up capacity in the government system, then they become categorised as ‘defaulters.’ High numbers of such ‘defaulters’ is one way through which programmes are evaluated by the WHO and described as poorly performing.”

Proof of permanent residency in the Delhi example Ian mentions becomes the basis for triage: a specific guarantee of territory, to continue the conceptual language of the preceding posts, is necessary for inclusion in the state’s pharmaceuticalization. If that guarantee may presume identification papers, it can extend as Ian suggests to a physical audit of their claims to proper residence. Improper or absent claims presumptively lead to abandonment. (These terms, developed by Joao Biehl, have generated intensive and productive debate). Types of claims on territory are used as proxies for knowledge of future patient mobility.

The flip side of the territorially excluded are the “defaulters” and here the audit at stake is not that of the state/corporate/multilateral organization/NGO apparatus of drug delivery auditing the prospective drug recipient but rather that of the multilateral organization (here WHO) assessing India and finding it wanting.

If the diagnosis offered in the Lancet cited in yesterday’s post framed the locus of failure at the nation state and its deficit of political will and regulatory capacity, here we see that the very privileged position of the European auditor (whether the medical journal of record or the WHO) is part of the feedback loop that leads the state TB administration to weed out the inadequately territorialized from the outset in order to improve its audits.

In such a context, UID makes a promise of transforming the reckoning of “adequate territorialization.” As will all such UID/Aadhaar promises, I want methodologically to avoid the hermeneutic of intense suspicion I and others are often drawn to produce. If I ended yesterday’s post with the suggestion that UID only addresses the minority of persons with MDR-TB [multi-drug resistant tuberculosis], one could argue that the point of the registration of the TB patient under UID will be to transform the ecology of multilateral audit and the logic of what I have called the feedback loop, leading to fewer disincentives against the exclusion of improperly territorialized persons diagnosed with MDR-TB (sorry for the quadruple negative in that last sentence, these blog posts are quick and dirty productions). In other words, if UID transforms the defaulter into an acceptably mobile drug recipient it might allow as well for the formerly abandoned to be included within the pharmaceuticalization regime.

Inclusion/abandonment: All this is speculation on my part at the level of the document or press report, at this point. But beyond TB, it points to tensions across the board in the imposition of UID that are framed in this binary of inclusion and abandonment: of elderly pensioners to be included in UID or whose fingerprints fail to register and whose motives are distrusted; of the Bangladeshi migrant who is to be more effectively surveyed as a Resident under UID or whose threat to the citizenship that differentiates Assam from the Bangladeshi prevents this inclusion and leads in due course to the entire state of Assam being temporally excluded from the UID program; and of transgender women whose community leaders have fought for inclusion under the census and other institutions of state identification but are divided and arguably deeply ambivalent about the value of inclusion under the surveillance of Aadhaar.

I am not satisfied with the conceptual payoff of this binary, but will let it stand for now.

Okay, why the smartphone?

I briefly cite the working paper I mentioned at the outset. It is symptomatic of all of the promise and confusion surrounding Aadhaar; as I pointed out much earlier on this blog, UIDAI officials seem as confused as anyone else about what UID is, does, and implicates. Here I break the document up into themes (ignore for now the many acronyms for particular state bureaucracies and entitlement schemes):

The unique and non-duplicated: “The Unique Identification (UID) project is a historic venture that seeks to provide a unique registration code to every Indian citizen. We surmise that the starting point would be to aggregate records from various population databases such as the census, the PDS system, voter identity systems, etc, while dealing with the challenge of duplication.”

The killer app as a figure of consumer/behavioral incentive: “Existing data bases would probably still leave a large percentage of the population uncovered. Therefore every citizen must have a strong incentive or a “killer application” to go and get herself a UID, which one could think of as a demand side pull. The demand pull for this needs to be created de novo or fostered on existing platforms by the respective ministries. Helping various ministries visualise key applications that leverage existing government entitlement schemes such as the NREGA and PDS will (1) get their buy-in into the project (2) help them roll out mechanisms that generate the demand pull and (3) can inform a flexible and future-proof design for the UID database. It will also build excitement and material support from the ministries for the UID project even as it gets off the ground.”

Public health will succeed if it can develop its own killer app: “Health, and health related development schemes could offer a killer application for the UID. After years of neglect, public health in India is seeing a revolution both in terms of (1) greater commitment towards government financing of public and primary healthcare (2) pressure to meet the MDG goals (3) consequent creation of large supply platforms at national levels such as the NRHM, RSBY and complementary state level initiatives such as the Rajiv Arogyasri insurance scheme in Andhra Pradesh. In health there is a cumulative historic gap both in terms of demand and supply. The UID could further help catalyse a revolution in India’s health outcomes.”

The participation of the new subject of UID (here termed a citizen by UIDAI, but as the official UIDAI website points out the subject of UID is a Resident and not a citizen: call this a constitutive confusion) is a matter of incentive, participation served by reforming governance as the promotion of self-interested participation in large-scale institutions, a broadly neoliberal figure for the condition of a scaled-up, arguably collective, social form. Jerome Whitington early on pointed me to Jim Ferguson’s very rewarding paper on this theme, “The Uses of Neoliberalism.”

Incentive is to be produced by each governmental agency. The new entitlement programs marking the last decade of Congress Party dominated rule, the extension of a prior development state electoral populism into a new form of state-corporate-NGO-multilateral governance, are here conceived of as killer apps for a generic platform, the UID.

Apps have become a powerful vehicle and metaphor. My Berkeley colleague Jim Holston is part of a collaboration thinking carefully about “social apps.”  Here I want to focus on the idea of a platform. What does it entail that UID is framed as a general platform for the “killer app”?

A real killer

Understanding UIDAI

This blog is my effort to begin to understand and assess the implications of UIDAI—the Indian program to create a universal national identity card, using “biometrics” to record and audit personal identity.

Many scholars, journalists, activists, bureaucrats, and interested others have written on UIDAI, and the first aim of the blog will be to sample these writings, both to learn from and think with them. The goal is the design of an informed research project and a variety of endeavors, including academic and popular publications, emerging from that.

Blogs engender conversation and debate: many anthropologists worldwide, and several of my students and colleagues, have pioneered their use in our discipline. Time is limited: my hope is to be able to engage at least three postings sent in response to each entry, building a series of conversations in support of critical understanding.

Self-publishing in this way carries its own hubris: I am as of yet no informed scholar of UIDAI or the sociology of identification. There are graduate students out there right now—some of whom I hope to work with—planning or doing terrific research on UIDAI or tangentially in relation to it.

The purpose of the blog is nonetheless an open process of inquiry. I will engage one short piece of information—culled from a news article, scholarly study, government report, web posting, and so forth—every few days, and slowly build up a fund of knowledge and a set of problematizations. That at least is the hope. My sense is that it may be helpful to trace a line of inquiry as it moves along, doubles back, discovers or loses its purpose, and generates other forms of work.