Tripura redux: Old-age pensions, Aadhaar, and the publicity of inclusion

Before continuing with a set of posts on some recent lectures at CSAS, Berkeley, of relevance to Aadhaar, I want to turn back for a time to the inclusion/exclusion of the Indian Northeast.

Tripura rolls out the red carpet to pension inclusion

Earlier I had posted on a series of themes: (1) on intense debates, in the state of Assam, over whether Aadhaar/UID would legitimate illegal migrants from Bangladesh as de facto citizens by providing residence-based entitlements; (2) on government efforts, in the state of Tripura, to register a high proportion of the state’s population with UID, marking the state as both distinct from the rest of the Northeast and politically and racially central to an Indian polity to which it is geographically peripheral; (3) on millenarian concerns, in the state of Mizoram, that UID/Aadhaar in its reducing each person to an indelible number writ on the body (i.e., biometrics) bespoke the mark of the Beast, that is Anti-Christ.

I want briefly to return to Tripura, which has recently garnered some national and NRI-focused publicity for following the state of Jharkhand in an extensive rolling out of old age pensions. If reporting on a population being granted the technological means for “financial inclusion” under these new terms of national belonging constitutes a “publicity of inclusion,” the Tripura publicity may serve a different set of regional commitments: not so much the developmental commitment to bringing the backward forward, as in the case of Jharkhand, but rather the national-integration and racialized commitment to bringing the geographically and racially marked margin into the center, in relation to Tripura. Tripura’s marginality is arguably complicated by earlier waves of Bengali migration: the resulting distinctive racialization of state identity in relation to the national anthropology of tribal inclusion and difference-fixation, I have argued, produces a doubled intensity of a desire for inclusion, financial-developmental and national-racial, by what is often constituted as a Bengali population-in-exile.

An earlier anthropology, perhaps most notably McKim Marriot‘s distinction between ranked logics of hierarchical “marking” versus center-periphery “mixing” (drawing on distinctions in agrarian gift relations developed in the work of Gloria Raheja but mapping these onto a presumptively pan-Indian epistemology of the social relation), might find these distinct logics of exclusion familiar. If we read Marriott through his most influential reader, Marilyn Strathern, we encounter species of form here. To put it differently, the particular history of multiple Partitions of Bengal in relation to colonial and post-colonial practices of racialized anthropological government produces distinct configurations of subaltern population and place, configurations that cite in their claims on the obvious earlier and persistent forms of marking difference. [The situation around form, if one takes Strathern seriously, is somewhat more complex than I want to render it here.]

Some persistent forms in Agartala, capital of Tripura

One does not have to compare the distinctive publicities of inclusion of Jharkhand versus far-off Tripura: even within the Indian Northeast, the logic of marginality and its relation both to geographies of racialization and long-term grammars of difference varies across states, as the immensely disparate government of inclusion and identification under UID/Aadhaar demonstrates.

I suppose the point here is that UID is being rolled out at “the margin,” but that the logic and form of what a given margin is varies in significant ways: and that if a margin bears a particular relation to the promise of inclusion, that relation will also vary accordingly. And, the second point, that as specific instances of “inclusion” (Jharkhand yesterday, Tripura today) become sites for publicity, they may be subject to a public logic drawn more from a given form of margination than another given form.

Okay: to the article in question: as usual, I post it and offer 3 brief notes.

I will use a version of a globally distributed wire service article (many newspapers having eviscerated their reporting staffs) from online version of the U.S. print tabloid the New York Daily News. The title of the piece suggests a serious error: much previous reportage names Jharkhand, not Tripura, as the first site to be used to roll out the Aadhaar pension program, a different form of the publicity of inclusion. But of course this a wire service article (a service fittingly if tragically named Smartwire) and fact checking by the worthies of the Daily News appears non-existent. Long live American journalism.

The tabloid is publishing a piece that few who do not already have extensive knowledge of the Indian scene could understand, suggesting both that its own publicity increasingly demands experiments with cultivating shifting urban publics (as the NY outer boroughs shift away from the predominantly white working class Catholic enclaves of earlier generations) and that a news site no longer demands that a reporting staff translate specific political worlds for a non-existent general audience.

Aadhaar used for first time in pension distribution

Aadhaar numbers were used in the distribution of pensions on Friday for the first time since their inception. The government-issued identity numbers were used by 194 residents in the northeastern region of Tripura, according to Manohar Biswas, the block development officer. Tripura is the first state to enroll 90 percent of its population – 3.38 million – into Aadhaar, according to an official from the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). Tripura Gramin Bank is the first regional bank in the country to provide Aadhaar services. The official added that the adoption of Aadhaar marks the beginning of a new system of delivering banking services, including pensions, to people’s doorsteps. During a trip to Tripura in August, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said Aadhaar-enabled applications would soon be used to provide pensions, wages and scholarships in 50 districts across the country. Of the 50 districts, four are in Tripura and two in Sikkim. Aadhaar was first introduced in Jharkhand last year. UIDAI has enrolled 200 million people for Aadhaar and aims to register another 400 million in the next 18 months.

Three notes:

(1) Rural:  The focus is on rural inclusion. Presumably urban slum inclusion will eventually follow. Gyatri Spivak in a series of talks has counseled attending to the ways the urban/rural binarism works now in organizing projects, resources, and imaginaries.

(2) Capture: Earlier, I posted discussions of the apparent fight between the Security focused NPR and the inclusion-focused UID, the competing repositories for India-as-a-database. In January 2012 India was to be divided in two zones, one under each database, and I suggested that NPR would focus on high security border, minoritzed, and internal insurgency regions. But UID is clearly intent of capturing data in border regions like Sikkim and Tripura and insurgent areas like Jharkhand. The zonal divide is not clear.

(3) Pension: I do not yet know who receives pensions and specifically which programs are at stake here.  I would welcome information.

“So When Should We Set Up Our Camps?”: The UID – NPR Entente Has Trouble

This is the final post for now engaging the January 2012 agreement between promoters of the parallel and competing biometric programs in India, the Security focused NPR and the Financial Liberalization focused UID.

The other biometrics: National Population Register Camp

A recent article posted August 7, 2012, by Sahil Makkar on the website livemint.com [prominently featuring the Wall Street Journal on its masthead], argues that NPR is not doing well and suggests that the terms of the agreement are in question.

If you have been following the career of UID, the news is quite extraordinary. I give the article in full and follow with my usual 3 comments.

NPR likely to be delayed
Decision runs counter to the compromise reached in January that Aadhaar and the NPR weren’t in conflict with each other

New Delhi: The National Population Register (NPR), an identity database being put together by the home ministry, will likely be delayed by at least a year beyond its June 2013 deadline after facing another reversal in its running conflict with the Aadhaar project of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), officials familiar with the development said.

The cabinet headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has directed the home secretary to take steps to avoid duplication of work with UIDAI and to set up NPR camps in states only after the former completes most of its work of collecting biometric data on an additional 400 million people.

The decision effectively runs counter to the compromise reached on 27 January that Aadhaar and the NPR weren’t in conflict with each other and both projects would run simultaneously.

Minutes of the 7 June cabinet meeting, which were released last month, have been reviewed by Mint.

“With this decision, NPR work has been delayed indefinitely,” said a home ministry official who asked not to be identified given the sensitive nature of the issue. “We had earlier targeted to complete NPR by June 2013 but it will be at least delayed by a year or more.”

The cabinet decision could revive the fight between the two identity projects. The core dispute is over which one of the two will collect biometric data. The home ministry’s position before the January compromise was that UIDAI data could not be trusted for security purposes.

Under the truce reached in January, each project was to use the biometric data collected by the other. In case of discrepancies between UIDAI and NPR data, NPR was to prevail. On 7 June, the cabinet directed Nandan Nilekani to accept NPR data, but asked the home ministry to set up NPR camps in states only after UIDAI finishes a majority of its work.

Home ministry officials said that there was no clarity on the word “majority”. UIDAI’s mandate has already been increased from enrolling 200 million people to 600 million, against the wishes of the home ministry and other departments in the Union government, they noted.

UIDAI and the Planning Commission had sought an extension of the former’s mandate after it enrolled 200 million people, its initial target. That resulted in a turf war between NPR and UIDAI.

“The cabinet decision means we cannot set up NPR camps in the states till the time UIDAI completes majority of the work. So when should we set up our camps—when they complete 51% or 60% or 80% of their biometric enrolment work? There is no clarity. State registrars are writing (to) us for directions,” said a second home ministry official who too asked not to be identified.

The 12-digit Aadhaar number was conceived as a unique identity that would be accepted nationally by banks, telcos, oil companies and other government agencies to serve as a tool to better target social spending by making sure that benefits such as subsidies reach the poor for whom they are meant. NPR’s prime mandate is to satisfy security concerns.

Friction between proponents of the two projects persisted despite the January compromise. Then home minister and current finance minister P. Chidambaram wrote in a 1 June letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that UIDAI was not honouring the truce.

“Despite these directions from the government of India, UIDAI is objecting to the conduct of the NPR camps in certain states and is also refusing to accept the biometric data of NPR for de-duplication and generation of (the) Aadhaar numbers,” Chidambaram said in his letter, which has been reviewed by Mint.

Chidambaram said in the letter that the NPR project was almost at a standstill because of the stance taken by UIDAI.

NPR creation is a statutory requirement and it is backed by legislation. We have to reach every resident in the country as per law even if they have already been covered by the UIDAI. The only difference is that we will not collect the biometrics of the people who have already given the same to UIDAI, but we have to record their other information. People are mandated to visit NPR camps,” the second home ministry official said.

The 27 January compromise hasn’t prevented duplication of biometric data collection, which the government had hoped to avoid. The government will have to spend an additional Rs. 6,000 crore if both NPR and UIDAI insist on collecting biometric data. The second home ministry official admitted it was all but impossible to avoid duplication costs.

The 27 January cabinet decision said the Registrar General of India (RGI), which runs NPR would be free to collect data “as per a schedule of its convenience” in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh, Daman and Diu, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Puducherry, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Tripura.

“Now we are only setting up NPR camps in those states like Delhi where UIDAI has almost completed its work. As per the new decision, we are not entering in the state where they are yet to take up work or collecting biometric data,” the first home ministry official said.

The home ministry officials say they are now dependent on state governments for their permission to set up camps because the latter will need to decide whether UIDAI has completed a majority of its work.

A UIDAI spokesperson refused to comment on the issue. “Both UIDAI and RGI are working in accordance with the decision of the government taken from time to time. We are not aware of any difficulty in this regard. We, therefore, have no comments to offer,” R.S. Sharma, UIDAI director general, said in an email response.

UIDAI says it has partnered with state-level registrars for conducting enrolments in the states and that it hopes to enrol another 400 million people in the next 18 months.

Incidentally, the Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC) is yet to clear the UIDAI’s request for an additional sum of Rs. 5,000 crore for enrolment of the additional 400 million people.

“The proposal is expected to be considered by the EFC shortly,” Sharma said.

UIDAI’s second round of enrolment started on 4 August.

UIDAI claims to have enrolled 200 million people and issued 180 million Aadhaar numbers. It has dispatched 175 million Aadhaar letters. NPR has collected data on 710.25 million and recorded the biometrics of 30.95 million.

3 Points:

1) Duplicates upon duplicates! The painstaking effort of Nandan Nilekani and his team to avoid duplication, their liberal dream of de-duplication, is here explicitly threatened by NPR as a duplicate in multiple senses: two parallel databases, two modes of data collection, two parallel staffs, two norms of contract (see last post) etc. The presumption of Nilekani’s UIDAI is that heretofore the State has failed to realize India’s historical potential (cf. Hegel‘s lectures on the philosophy of history): the social contract has failed, as the condition of livability that the sovereign is to ensure for the citizen-subject is inevitably diverted to an inauthentic “duplicate.” The lessons of rationalized, non-familial corporate governance [i.e., bureaucracy proper to its and the nation’s historical potential] and the power of biometrics and big data are brought together to create a database with the power once and for all to de-duplicate the nation.

Bringing India to the end of history: Nilekani as dialectician

But the NPR, from the perspective of the promise of UID, is most likely government as usual, riven with localized “vested interests” forming a nexus with the state and its information-gathering. To allow NPR data to be commensurate with UID data is to ensure the failure of de-duplication, for the NPR data again from this perspective is thought to be always already duplicated: that is, to be formed in the crucible of [corrupt] everyday interest politics.

In this sense, Nilekani and others’ diagnosis of the state as always already corrupt and requiring an uncontaminated intervention is similar to that of the Gandhians and of Nehru, according to Thomas Hansen in his important argument in The Saffron Wave.

[Against the usual opposition of Gandhian work on the body/self/relation [satyagraha] and Nehruvian statist expertise, Hansen as I read him (brutally abstracting a complex argument) suggests their continuity in terms of a form of anti-politics in which everyday political process is inevitably contaminated by the scrum of vested interests. What is needed to rise above the near-Hobbsean state of nature produced by the play of interests is some sublime form of necessarily anti-democratic governance, and both Gandhi and Nehru if in quite distinctive ways turn to Indian civilization as its reason and justification.]

Big data and biometrics and corporate governance, if one draws on Hansen’s language, are the conditions of the contemporary sublime.

Biometrics in particular seem to matter. The sticking point according to the article in the earlier entente between UID and NPR was whether NPR would include biometric data or be more of a conventional census.

2) The irrelevance of cabinet position, the impotence of law: Chidambaram by all accounts is a powerful and canny politician and administrator. And yet his own lament at the deferral and exclusion of NPR and presumptively of India’s security interests [cf. “so when should we set up our camps,” a statement extraordinary in so many ways] suggests he is no match for the Congress government’s commitment to Nilekani and the UIDAI, whether we are to read that commitment as the financial liberalization and technocratic bias of the Prime Minister or as the populism of the Nehru-Gandhi family and their sense that the rationalized entitlement UIDAI/Aadhaar promises is the effective update on the Garibi Hatao [Eliminate Poverty] tradition of their party.

Chidambaram was recently moved from Home to Finance: from the official home that is of NPR to the home of UID. But if that move was in part to force him to back down from his commitment to the security database it has failed. Here he to speak as if he was more responsible for the Home Ministry’s NPR than his current post’s baby.

Once a Home Minister, always a Home Minister

And note his point that NPR is mandated under law. Implicitly he is pointing out, like many critics of UIDAI across the political spectrum, that the latter’s grounding in law is shaky at best. At stake in one sense is arguably a shifting terrain of the formal and legal. Here at least the NPR/UID distinction marks a differential claim on law, a differential logic of law. In part, UID like some other forms of sublime governance operates through the logic of emergency or exception: Nilekani has a cabinet-level rank without the formal limits and protocols of a ministry. UIDAI may be a section of a section of a section of the Finance Ministry, but it is in many situations treated as all but independent. Or so its critics allege.

To bring in the logic of exception, a concept with a familial relation to Hansen’s use of the sublime, may invoke for some the work of Giorgio Agamben and in particular Partha Chatterjee’s use of an Agamben-ish distinction between “civil society” [“bios,” life under law] and “political society” [“zoe,” bare life under exception]. Here the Security apparatus, in the post-millennial United States the sine qua non of the zone of exception as opposed to formal law, becomes on the contrary the embodiment of statute and law and territory. The financial liberalization apparatus is set apart as the troubling extra-legal state of exception.

3) Scale and speed, the mastery of time and the Masses: NPR’s lament is not being able to start. But if UIDAI is responsible for freezing the time of its rival, in doing so it secures the familiar neoliberal claim that the state is inefficient and corrupts time itself. UID here appears phenomenal in capturing millions and millions of persons for their de-duplication, despite reports of old people being illegible to biometric recording and entire states (the Northeast) being zoned for NPR alone. It masters time, or if you like it masters India as the Masses through its use of time. NPR is denied time: or is its lament just the familiar plaint of the development state justifying its failures by blaming others? Such are the stakes of debate produced in this moment.

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.”

Bodo-Muslim Violence and the Question of Identity Cards for Assam: Security as a Negative Condition

Some months ago I posted about the complexities of the UID/Aadhaar biometric program in India’s northeastern states, areas often marginal to Delhi-based national politics. Given that professional anthropology plays a large role in the institutions that organize and govern the racial and cultural presumptions of “tribal” identity across the Northeast, one could argue that the anthropology of the new biometrics bears a particular kind of responsibility to a different kind of engagement in relation to conditions of identity there. Meanwhile, time has not stood still and Assam again dominates the Indian news as a site of intense and upsetting “communal violence.”

Help: Charities in the new refugee camps

Months ago, my focus was threefold: (1) on concerns in the state of Assam that illegal Bangladeshi migrants would use the “residence”-based registration of UID to become citizens, de facto or de jure; (2) on efforts in the state of Tripura to rival the southern hi tech powerhouse Andhra Pradesh in number of persons registered, and how these might relate to the (legal) Bengali-migrant dominated state’s efforts to evade the peripheral condition of the tribalized Northeast; and (3) on reports in the state of Mizoram that some Christian pastors had been challenging the UID/Aadhaar “number” itself as the the apocalyptic “mark of the Beast,” raising both familiar and new questions about the occurrence of millenarian realities.

Even as I was writing those earlier posts, concerns over migration and their relation to the long apparent “instability” of Assam had led to the extraordinary move of shelving the entire project of UID in the state, or so reports (like the one I cite below) noted last January (2012). If so many minimal entitlements are to be tied to the card and number, then what it means for an entire state and its territory to be excluded from Aadhaar and its great promise (or, for its many critics, to escape the surveillance and exploitation of the program), is quite important to consider: both for Assam and its own out-migration, and more generally for its economic and political relations to the rest of India.

Over the summer of 2012, Assam has been daily in the news for intensifying waves of conflict over which groups have rights in land and legitimacy, joining debates over recent Bangladeshi migrants to relations between non-tribal and tribal communities to the many descendents of earlier, multiple migrations. Particularly at stake are relations between the Bodos, who were after longtime struggle granted certain rights over four districts in the state, and Bengali Muslims and Hindus, some of whom are and some are not “illegal” but whom a national political discourse at times identifies as illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants tout court.  Large numbers of killings have occurred, of Bodos and migrant Hindus but particularly of migrant Muslims (though I cringe as I write this for its vagueness is unacceptable: understanding where and how the killings have occurred and with what backing is critical. There are many scholars whose current work I will depend on, including Malini Sur and Garga Chatterjee). At present, camps for the large numbers, particularly  Muslims, who have fled for their lives have been set up in lower Assam, both local and religious charities and international humanitarian organizations appeal for needed resources to ensure food, clothing, water, and medication, and the state is trying to urge frightened and unwilling people to return to these contested villages with promises of secure if heretofore dodgy governance.

Even before the killings intensified and the refugee camps had to be established, UID/Aadhaar had not featured prominently in past months of the English-language press in Assam that is available via the Internet (but that admittedly is a restricted field). Given that what dominates the press are variant framings right now of Assam’s exceptional status, it seemed useful to return to the question of identity, particular amid the current moment in which a different form, the humanitarian camp and the basic emergency “kit” (see the work of Peter Redfield) dominate the organization of the minimal entitlement. So how do camps relate to Universal ID as forms of rationalized entitlement and control?

This at least is a question to gesture towards.

For today, I offer an earlier article from last January, announcing the exceptional status of Assam vis-à-vis the Aadhaar number, from the Assam Tribune of January 28, 2012.

Aadhaar cards unlikely to be issued in Assam
NEW DELHI, Jan 27 – The Aadhaar cards issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) are unlikely to be rolled out in Assam and other North Eastern States, barring Tripura and Sikkim. A meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Unique Identification Authority of India related issues (CC-UIDAI) chaired by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh decided to limit the issue of Aadhaar cards to 60 crore [ 600 million] population spread over 16 States and Union Territories. In the rest of the States, the national identity numbers would be issued on the basis of the National Population Register.

Briefing newsmen, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and deputy chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia said that in all cases the NPR data base would prevail. However, Aadhaar numbers would prevail in those States where it has been issued. And in rest of the States, the NPR exercise would continue.

The States where the Aadhar cards have been rolled out included Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Puducherry, Tripura and Rajasthan among others.

UIDAI uses information on five fields, while NPR seeks information on 15 fields. The entire exercise of issue of NPR is targeted for completion in 18 months by June 2013, said the Home Minister.

The Cabinet meeting called today to resolve the differences between the Home Ministry and the Planning Commission over the issue of Aadhaar cards and the national identity cards, worked out a compromise formula, under which the limit of the Aadhaar cards have been fixed. The Home Ministry has now been mandated to carry out the NPR project in rest of the States.

About the security concerns flagged by the Home Ministry, Chidambaram said that UIDAI has agreed to review all the information it has collected. At the moment they have agreed to review the entire process to address all the security concerns.

The security concerns included the possibility of the cards falling into the hands of the illegal migrants and subsequent misuse of the cards to avail of the government schemes. The infiltration prone North Eastern States including Assam, were particularly referred in this regard.

3 points.

(1) At stake, as noted in an earlier blog post, is the contest that had come to a head at the beginning of 2012 over the control of the national identity database between the security focus of the Home Ministry and the liberalization focus of the Finance Ministry. The Home Ministry, then under the powerful Chidambaram, officially won that battle with its census-driven “National Population Registry” [NPR] named as the ultimate arbiter of de-duplicated universal ID. But the article reveals that India is in effect divided into two: what I will term power zones and security zones. Power zones comprise the wealthier South and the politically powerful Hindi-heartland North. Security zones are insecure border states, though notably not Rajasthan, and insecure insurgency states, though notably not Jharkhand where several UID/Aadhaar programs targeting the elderly were first rolled out.
Assam and the north-east (minus the exception-to-the-exception Tripura) are here framed as the sine qua non of the insecure condition and the core of the NPR and its security zone.

(2) In the wake of the earlier massacres, and amid ongoing killings, local state and district government is trying to encourage the refugees from the Bodo districts to return, with promises of normalcy. What kind of normalcy is and can be expected in the security zone? Famed for the wealth of tea plantations, dependent upon the rationalized and secure labor of the Bengali migrants, one might imagine the Bodo lands economically as power zones: but the history of modern Assam and its racialized state governance and anti-state struggle belie that.

(3) Universal ID began as a Security measure: the conundrums of the liberal-security state led to its capture by the Planning and Finance people. The latter promised far more than Chidambaram, who really seemed to offer at best the status quo of security but not the neoliberal version of universal development. But Security as a state concern remains vital, and now despite the political efforts to commensurate the two data-gathering massive enterprises they seem to remain split, and perversely duplicated. That is, the very promise of the de-duplicated future has led to a massive duplication in the imaginary of the nation as database. If UIDAI/Aadhaar stands for the new conditions of the neoliberal social, that is of the promises of development in the aftermath of the failed planning state, Security has become the negative of that promise, and the two are kept distinct through the establishment of what are in effect two parallel zones of government by distinct ecologies of information.

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

Mizoram: the Devil, property, and identity fetishism

This will be the last post of a week attending to UID in the Northeast. The previous post, mostly for my clumsy misspellings of a fellow blogger’s name but also given substantive differences in how and why to write about Bangladeshi migration, and admittedly different stakes, generated a small bit of dialogue.

If the themes of the week have been national erasure and migrant threat (Assam) and exemplary mass identification (Tripura), the article excerpted below addresses a persistent theme in reportage on the Northeast, combining figures of backwardness, irrational superstition, and the treatment of minority (here Christian) religion. It simultaneously evokes a genre of anthropological writing on the uncanny violence of capitalist transformation. Here, the ontological insecurity girding the terrifying threat of imminent devilry is not the entry into particular wage economies, but the ways the here closely associated UID and census force together the state control of property transfer and UID/census registration. I was initially cautious in reposting the article: the point is not to reprise the cosmopolitan pleasures of my discipline in securing the uncanniness of life on various margins. Or is it?

News photo: the Bible seems to hover over a Mizoram town

Fear of the Devil holding up census in Mizoram
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Aizawl : The fear of the ‘Beast’ or the Devil in the Christian-dominated state of Mizoram has caused almost 1,000 families to refuse to enroll their names in the National Population Register (NPR) taken up along with the Census 2011 here from May 15.
The dread stems from Chapter 13 Verse 17 of the Book of Revelations in the Bible which says “… and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark or the name of the Beast or the number of his name.”
The problem has stemmed from the Unique Identification Authority of India stipulating that none one could buy or sell property without the Unique ID card.
According to adherents of the belief, since buying or selling of property made one a follower of the Beast, one having the UID card, which authorised property transactions, automatically made one a follower of the Devil.
Those refusing to be enumerated belong to the Mizoram Presbyterian Church and the Baptist Church of Mizoram.
Champhai District Magistrate Vijay Kumar Bidhuri said when he summoned Lalzawna the leader and high priest of a sect he was told that his religious belief would not permit him to register his name and he was ready to face any punishment.
Serchhip Deputy Commissioner H told that adherents of the belief claimed they had thereligious freedom to disobey the government and were not afraid of punitive action.
“They are not afraid of being prosecuted for their beliefs as they are more afraid of being identified with the Devil,” one enumerator said.
The Presbyterian Church Synod, the highest decision making body of the largest Church in the state on June 13 issued a message to all members asking them to cooperate with census officials as it was the duty of every citizen to do so.
“We (the believers) should not be afraid of the Beast (Devil), rather the Beast should be afraid of us as we believe in God who is more powerful,” the message said.
The Church said that UID was important to identity bona fide citizens of the country and also help in identifying illegal immigrants and terrorists. The Church also condemned people who were issuing booklets about the ‘Number of the Beast’ to terrify church members.
The message of the Presbyterian Church was read out in all church branches in the state, but there were still some who were skeptical, a church elder said.
Enumerators were instructed by District Magistrates of all the eight districts in the state to identify those refusing to cooperate on religious grounds.
The reports lying with five District Magistrates indicated that there were 939 families who have refused to have their names registered in the NPR, official sources said….
District Magistrate Bidhuri convened a meeting for people who refused to cooperate with the census officials on June 11 where only two persons, after being given explanations, agreed to cooperate with officials.
The rest refused to budge from their stand even after the authorities told them that they could be fined up to Rs 1,000 and liable for imprisonment of up to three years.
They were also informed that they could be deprived of their right to franchise, ration cards, works under NREGS and other benefits from the government.
“As they have refused to believe our explanations, we may be left with no other option, but to take punitive action against them,” one official said.
The fear of the Beast is not new among Mizo Christians as many of the sects and cults have refused to enroll their children in school believing enrolment would make them adherents of the Devil.
Many have refused to have ration cards to avail rice at a cheaper rate on the same grounds even though most of them belonged to poorer sections of the society.

This article is lodged on multiple sites across the Internet, along with others that tend to share or even sharpen the presumption of the irrational margin. If the Assamese situation often presumes the outsider as duplicating the citizen and her rights, if the broader conversation on UID presumes the generalized figure of corruption duplicating legitimate entitlement either from above or below, here the duplicate—if that is indeed the figure—is an accusation offered not from the center but the margin itself. The state’s enterprise invokes numeration in a way that doubles and  threatens to collapse into the work of the Beast. At stake at first pass seems to be a form of life instantiated within the vitality, in Mizoram, of the Book of Revelation. But how might one take the accusation of the double seriously, for the moment? How does property governance, schooling, and identification come together in such a terrifying way?

It is worth noting the violence of state response, abetted by mainstream churches, tracking and punishing non-registrants. The story is murky: it is not clear how the census and UID are organized in relation to one another, in Mizoram. But the punishment threatened seems wildly unlike the conditions for non-registrants in Uttar Pradesh, say. At first pass, again, the situation seems to be a highly paternalist and racialized legacy of “tribal” administration, setting up a high stakes game of moral certitude in which the equal force of the refusal of state demands to be marked makes more sense.

And perhaps, the materiality of UID is more palpable here in the figure of the Mark of the Beast.

I close with a second, longer piece, more extreme in its condemnation and force, followed by some musings on numbers, fellow Jews, and mysterious chicken.

In Mizoram, the Omen

Jaideep Mazumdar

And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name — Revelation 13:16-17

Kaptawni, a 44-year-old widow who sells second-hand clothes in Aizawl, looks at me with suspicion. “Why does he want to know all these details about me and my family? Is he trying to trick me?” she asks Zodin, the translator. Zodin tries to convince her that I am who I am—a journalist—but Kaptawni is not mollified. I know exactly what she is thinking: am I an agent of the Devil?

Kaptawni is one of the 7,000-odd people in Mizoram who have refused to get themselves enumerated in the census. They are all ultra-orthodox Christians to whom the Unique Identification (UID) card project, a part of the census this time, means a plan by Satan to give humans the ‘Mark of the Beast’ as foretold in the New Testament’s ‘Revelations’ chapter. “The UID card is the first step. Soon, the Government will say that since it can be lost or forged, chips must be implanted in our foreheads or arms. That is what the Bible says will be the Mark of the Beast,” she tells me. My questions make her angry, but it is when we want to shoot her photo that she decides her suspicions are true. “No photographs,” she declares and ends the interview.

The census enumeration started in this deeply religious and overwhelmingly Christian state on 15 May. Soon, a rumour began to float that the UID project heralds the Beast’s rule with everyone receiving a “mark on their right hands or on their foreheads” and without which “no one may buy or sell, save he that had the mark…” The UID, like a US social security number , will at some point be the mark of an Indian, but to Mizoram’s ultra-orthodox Christians it concurs with this line of Revelations: ‘…before the end comes, the number and symbol of the beast or Satan would be distributed to mankind and everybody would be counted by the prince of darkness.’

T Pachhinga isn’t as unreasonable as Kaptawni. The 73-year-old former constable with the Railway Protection Force is willing to talk, and is even ready for a photo. “The UID card will mark us for the Beast. The Bible says that whosoever is thus marked will burn in hell,” he says. Pachhinga belongs to the Presbyterian Church where no one else, including his wife and three adult children, agrees with him. “They don’t understand,” he says. “I know I won’t get the UID card. Maybe I won’t be able to do many things, like bank transactions, draw my pension, get medical treatment or even book a railway ticket. But I’m willing to bear the consequences. I’ve transferred everything in my wife’s name so that my family doesn’t suffer. I’m ready to suffer. I know the Lord will save me.” Pachhinga has a repertoire of Biblical verses to back him. For instance, Revelations chapter 14, verses 9 to 11, which warn against receiving the Beast’s mark.

Kapzuala, 46, an evangelist with the Church of God, another local Protestant denomination, says he’s fine with the census but not the UID project. “I’m opposed to giving my biometric details and being given a number,” he says. He has a voter’s ID card. Doesn’t that also have a number? “The two are different,” he tells me, but refuses to explain why.

We travel to Kolasib, 100 km north of Aizawl, to meet Hmingropuia. He is a leader of the group campaigning against the UID project. He’s not opposing it in its entirety. “My only objection is to the allocation of numbers to those who are enrolled or enumerated. That is the number of the Beast,” he says. Hmingropuia used to be a primary school teacher, but drives an auto-rickshaw now. He has a driving licence which has a number, but that is alright. “The UID card will be a multi-purpose card,” he says. “It will be necessary to buy and sell property, just as is said in the Bible. Also, the UID project is part of a global exercise to enumerate people and households—the UN’s World Population & Housing Census. This is exactly what the Revelation says about the number or symbol of the beast being distributed to mankind and everybody being counted by the prince of darkness.”

Most Christians in Mizoram find this ridiculous. “They’re fanatical Christians with extreme views. They don’t understand the Bible and the Prophecies at all,” says former Minister Rokamloua, a church elder of the Dawrpui Presbyterian Church at Aizawl. C Lalnuntlinga, editor of Christian Outlook, a non-denominational religious monthly published from Aizawl, has carried articles against these rumours. He says, “Good and true Christians have nothing to fear from the Beast or Satan. There’s no danger to them.”

Professor C Nunthara, vice-chancellor of the Shillong campus of William Carey University, has also written against it. “There is absolutely no connection between the UID Project and Biblical prophecies. I have explained that repeatedly in articles,” he says. The Presbyterian Synod issued a statement on the same lines. Church elders and pastors have tried speaking sense and the Government has held seminars to clear misconceptions, but it has not helped.

Strangely, while it is believed the UID is Satan’s project, the Beast by logical extension is not the Indian Government. “It could be the US or UN or some other very powerful entity,” Hmingropuia says. “Both are globally powerful and influential. The Bible says Satan would be a powerful king who rules over the world.”

“How about China, an emerging global superpower?” I ask him.  “Very likely,” he says, warming up to the idea.

Then he sees the camera and his mood turns agitative. We try to cajole him into a photograph, but he won’t even be clicked from the back. Abruptly, he starts talking of his past. “I used to drink a lot and was a street fighter till six years ago. I bashed up many people and was also behind bars.” It’s a loud hint which we take—and leave.

Grateful to the reporter for the courtesy at least of his travels and interviews, I am frustrated at the illiberalism of his honesty and presumptions of backwardness. So three last thoughts.

1) The cosmopolitanism of rumor: what is at stake, for some interviewed, is a sense of risk tied to identification as a globally penetrating form, tied to occult fears precisely in the conjunction of its massive scale and its intimate fixation on, and soon in (the implanted chip) the body. The voices of reason argue: but it is simply a number (thus, paraphrasing Michael Taussig, the devil and identity fetishism). You use numbers and allow yourselves to be used by them all the time. What is the difference here, with UID? But the proponents of UID have long given it magical qualities, the vehicle to end corruption and eliminate poverty through de-duplication. In opposition, then, we have the terrifying double, far more terrifying than the film double of Manu I discussed in an earlier post on the film Duplicate.

2) The number, the mark: I recall a drunken conversation, some years ago, with Martha Selby and Daud Ali, in a Mylapore bar, on the mysterious enumeration of Chicken 65. Many others over the years, variously inflected by intoxicants, have had similar discussions on this South Indian non-veg classic and its name. This led Martha and I to discuss a project on the life of numbers. Perhaps this is my first stab.

3) The sect, the Jew: The relation of sectarianism to duplicating claims, in Mizoram, is not particularly new. I have long followed claims by my Mizo and Manipuri co-religionists to Jewish “rights of return” to settle in Israel, dismissed by many guardians of authentic Jewishness. As in Andhra Pradesh, Jews tend to appear in particular zones of intense post-mission sectarian Christian millenarianism. But if there is a particular local history to the sectarian, in Mizoram, it is again and again articulated to something of far greater scale, whether the deferred promise of Zionism or the embodied threat of the imminently universal mark.

Violence at the limits of liberal governance: on claims about Aadhaar as a “vote bank” nexus

The last posts suggested some concerns around Aadhaar and Universal ID in Assam circulate around a second figure of the duplicate—not the cheater whose proliferating instances of identity must be de-duplicated, but the presumptively illegal Bangladeshi migrant whose passing as an Indian citizen may be legitimated if s/he gains access to an Aadhaar card and identity.

Assamese-Bangladesh border

Much of both popular and expert literature on the effects of migration across the Assamese-Bangladeshi border is neither dispassionate nor particularly empirical. A problem is proposed—large scale illegal migration and “land grabbing”—but few local studies helping to specify the stakes either in border districts or large towns and cities are cited. Such studies may exist—these questions are new for me—but an unscientific survey of several dozen policy or news reports through the medium of the Internet has not yet revealed them. What does clearly exist is a language that moves quickly into the specter of a national struggle between the Assamese and the Bangladeshis, a struggle framed both in a language of demographic invasion and cultural genocide and, iteratively, as a struggle over Islamicization and de-Hinduization. Hindutva groups like the VHP [Vishwa Hindu Parishad, see the classic article by Jaffrelot in Dalmia et al] are not surprisingly perhaps well-represented in debates over the disappearance of Assam; but the range of commentary is far broader.

It would be unfortunate if my point was taken as a dismissal of the effects of large-scale migrations. If the tenor of the debate tends toward the inflammatory, framing the migrant through a presumptive psychology of a rapacious “land hunger,” part of the challenge is to understand the conditions of this slippage.

In this context, UID is debated as a means either to establish security and identify the false claims of the migrant, or as a failed enterprise in being conceived not as a register of citizenship but rather residency. Some articles focus on the technical and historical conditions of UID’s database and its complex relation to census instruments, but most focus on the politics of the ruling Congress-Party led alliance as it gears up for elections and courts “vote banks”: here the presumption is that Congress needs the “minority [Muslim] vote” and that its attitude toward UIDAI reflects the contingencies of not seeming too harsh on Muslim migrants.

What emerge are a set of challenges to UIDAI, presumed by articles, reports, and blog posts either to be responses by parties in power to electoral considerations by weakening or attacking UIDAI, or to be responses by parties out of power and especially the Hindu nationalist parties to UID’s claimed role in weakening proof of citizenship and thus weakening state security.

I have elsewhere termed such a political imaginary “the nexus”—in that any position toward an institution, here the UIDAI, is taken to reveal a prior set of “vested interests” benefiting the powers behind a political formation. What is interesting is that rival visions of the impact of migration and of state response may both be organized around a critique of UID /Aadhaar.

Rather than detailed commentary, let me just throw out a brief discussion of and citation from 2 citations that exemplify this range of problematization and the shared critique of UID.

(1) from Shantanu Bhagwat’s blog, Satyameva Jayate: Dedicated to “Bharat” and “Dharma” in a post entitled “This weekend, worrying about Assam”:

Mr. Bhagwat cites another blogger, Nitin, who argues for regularized work-permits as part of “the solution” to the security problem of Bangladeshi migration and who suggests that UID can also be used to keep track of who is a citizen. Nitin frames the program in the longue durée:

“Probably the most important event in (Assam) during the last 25 years — an event, moreover, which seems likely to alter permanently the whole future of Assam and the whole structure of Assamese culture and civilization — has been the invasion of a vast horde of land-hungry Bengali immigrants, mostly Muslims, from the districts of (Bangladesh).”

You might think I am quoting a contemporary BJP leader. These are, in fact, words of C S Mullan, census commissioner under the British Raj. He made these comments in 1931. If you thought that the issue of “illegal immigrants from Bangladesh” is a recent one, then think again.

Demographic change in the erstwhile Assam province in the first half of the twentieth century was at the heart of the Muslim League’s demand, in the 1940s, that the territory be given to Pakistan. So those who argue that large-scale immigration from Bangladesh is one of the biggest long-term threats to India’s national security are right.

Nitin’s move is interesting: he differentiates himself from the Hindu nationalist BJP and grounds his concern rather in the colonial era census. In other words: reason, not passion, should guide a planned response: thus work permits and UID as the solution as opposed to the violent means advocated by some.

His response is dual: use the Bangladeshi project of Universal ID, cross-nationally in collaboration with Bangladesh, to survey and control numbers of migrants. This is the “negative” part of the solution (“You might be surprised to know that as many as 85 million Bangladeshis have biometric National ID Cards (NIDs) which were issued ahead of the 2008 elections. These cards are now required for opening bank accounts, applying for passports and accessing public services”)

And, the positive: use the Indian UID to assess who is really a citizen. Vote-bank politics, by which Nitin like many commentators suggests the Congress Party soft-pedals control of Bangladeshis to garner the needed Muslim vote in its coalition building, have garnered the dividends of Congress (neoliberal, non-Hindu nationalist) Rule. Here Nitin identifies with these dividends, but marks a limit in the figure of the migrant. The security threat of Bangladeshis flooding in must be tackled. But the solution extends the liberal promise of Congress through the rationalized distribution of cross-national labor through cross-national biometrics.

In contrast, Mr. Bhagwat notes that UID is not organized around citizenship rolls and therefore cannot function to address any security issue here.

I am pretty certain he [Nitin] realises that UID is not about citizenship – it is more about establishing an “identity” – and to the best of my knowledge, it is going to be based on the National Population Register. The population register is not the same as a record of citizens (or citizenship) and it would therefore be wrong and misleading to use that as  the basis for establishing citizenship (the fact that this is exactly what is very likely to happen is  a topic for a separate discussion).

Mr. Bhagwat then cites a series of article excerpts by the Assamese journalist Wasbir Hussain, including the following:

As a result of population movement from Bangladesh, the spectre looms large of the indigenous people of Assam being reduced to a minority in their home state… This silent and invidious demographic invasion of Assam may result in the loss of the geo-strategically vital districts of Lower Assam [on the border with Bangladesh]. The influx of these illegal migrants is turning these districts into a Muslim majority region. It will then only be a matter of time when a demand for their merger with Bangladesh may be made…

This concern [staged in Husain’s signifiably Muslim but Indian and Assamese voice, again not in a Hindutva voice] makes Bhagwat wonder if the regularization of work permits is enough. He leaves the alternatives unvoiced.

His lone respondent voices an alternative, a figure of counter-violence. “Seadog” cites the positive example of the Maharashtra based Shiv Sena party and writes:

Watch and hit hard. Don’t slacken off, ever. Boycott them. Track them relentlessly. Recently, with the threat of imminent violence in Assam, a lot of infiltrators fled back to Bangladesh.

They [those who threatened this imminent violence] could take lessons from the Sena, maybe even some help.
Liberty does not come cheap.

Here, a rational-liberal discourse of formalizing illegal/informal migration marks its own limit in the difficulty of keeping population based and citizenship based form of surveillance separate. At that limit, if Seadog can be taken to mark the effects Mr. Bhagwat’s silence both potentiates and elides, calls for extreme violence may proliferate.

(2) In a response to a web post on the 24/7 News channel NDTV’s website, the posting being about growing opposition to UIDAI, one commentator writes:

There are lots of illegal immegrants from pakistan and bangladesh. This comes to many millions, with UID, everyone is going to get legal ID for them. which is very dangeros for the countries security. Question is how to identify them, Indians borders were opened all these years. It is unfortunate. In Assam there were only 2% minorites, today some analysts are mentioning this figure is about 35%, how did this happen?. UPA government is playing Vote bank politics , compromising on counrties security.

Here the presumptive nexus is between the Congress-led UPA government and the [unnameable, within the norms of contemporary Indian political discourse] Muslim “vote bank.” UID becomes the instrument of such pro-Muslim “vote bank politics.”

Behind this claim, however, one might need to ask what other kind of politics exist. There seem to be two kinds of political theory that haunt such a claim and resistance to it.

More recently, there is the much discussed argument of Partha Chatterjee that “most of the world” in its ever burgeoning squatter-settlement global cities inhabits a form of “political society” in which relations with state agencies and other powerful formations must be negotiated by informal, brokered, aggressively collective, often criminalized means (the squatters and illegals need the means to live and thrive and entertain self-respect; what I am calling the powerful formations need to govern the population and its milieu), as opposed to “civil society” with its formals and legal relations to land (ownership and tenancy and taxation) and labor (taxation and regulation) and electoral, individualized politics. Surely the blogs cited above are haunted by the potential collapse of local civil society (but here linked to the racialized imaginary of the nation) and the need either to through the identity card create some intermediate position between the fully formalized and the dangerously proliferating informal migrant, or, through threats of imagined counter-violence, to descend to the presumed level of political society.

But there may be another trajectory, through the sociologist M. N. Srinivas from his 1955 concept of the vote bank and a series of debates on the “demand polity” that emerge in conversation with him. This trajectory may offer other ways to think through UID as it gets pitched as the failed (duplicate?) protector of civil society. This trajectory may not exercise in the same way the presumptive and for me deeply flawed sociology of “India” as a persistently split entity, here between the dualism of political and civil society.