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.

“1.2 billion credit histories will be available”: Aadhaar and the reformation of the Masses

This is the final post for now introducing the question of financial inclusion. Barring some exciting new topic brought by next week’s events, I would like to turn back to the northeastern states of India and to the question of the migrant in coming days, and then to a close reading of Imagining India, the book by UID head Nandan Nilekani..

Frequent news image: the new account-holder

So, briefly: an earlier article from the Hindu subsidiary Business Line, filed from Chennai, on 5 November 2011, by A. J. Vinayak and M. V. S. Santosh Kumar:

‘Aadhaar’ the unique identification number, will be aadhaar (support) to banks in not just one but three ways. Not only would it reduce the customer acquisition cost (estimated at Rs 150 an account), it would also reduce customer distribution costs and provide banks credible information for credit risk analysis in the years to come.

Participating in a panel discussion on ‘Profitable models for financial inclusion, agriculture and rural development’, Mr Rajesh Bansal, Assistant Director-General of Unique Identification Authority of India, said that by 2017, nearly 1.2 billion people in the country would be enrolled under Aadhaar.

As Aadhaar gives enrollers a choice to open bank accounts, Indian banks will have access to 1.2 billion customers in the country by the end of 2017, Mr Bansal noted. With this, 1.2 billion credit histories will be available which will in turn help banks to do better credit risk analysis, he said.

Stating that 11 crore people have already enrolled under Aadhaar, he said 3 crore people are being enrolled under the project every month. Around Rs 3-lakh crore of subsidy transfer opportunity is waiting to be unlocked post-Aadhaar, which dwarfs the Rs 22,000 crore currently being spent under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).

Since 1.2 billion people are expected to get the benefit of Aadhaar in the country, this will be a good KYC (know your customer) for bankers.

Post this panel discussion, Dr Subir Gokarn, Deputy Governor, in his speech, also noted the immense opportunity the ‘financially excluded’ offer.

According to a National Council for Applied Economic Research survey, around 42 per cent of the rural household’s have financial assets in the form of cash. The same proportion in urban areas is 23.4 per cent. This data, despite being dated (survey was done in 2005), would be of similar proportion even today, he opined.

While he used the reference of ‘know your customer’ transition to ‘grow with your customer’ strategy going forward for banks. It is very relevant in case of financial inclusion given largely untapped financial savings and other financial products.

So just a single point. Various state and bank officials promote UID/Aadhaar as an immense resource, a promise, a potential, a source of untapped wealth in the very form of the masses, the long-suffering material of Planned Development, its scary enumeration once a sign of biological catastrophe and the need for swift surgical reform. But here the mass in its enumeration is the source of previously disregarded wealth newly available through the technology of biometrically guaranteed identification. Wealth where before there was waste, a but like the Appalachian landscapes newly given over to the promise of fracking in North America.

Again, it is not simply that Aadhaar creates potential through the registration and formal sector control of previously untapped monetary reserves: but that Aadhaar creates a powerful new information reserve, 1.2 billion credit histories, a double expansion. The mass is reformed both as a source of minimal wealth that in its very massiveness will generate untold potential, and as a source of the radical expansion of information enabling new massifications of risk (sorry!), new control points enabling the presumptively effective management of the risk as poverty becomes the primary national resource for wealth, its marginality a resource for reframing the object of risk (“Know Your Customer”) itself.

Is this a problem? I’m not sure. Win-win situation? I’m not sure.