Aadhaar critics are missing the point
George Orwell, the famous English author and political commentator, in his essay "Freedom of the Park", wrote, "The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country."
He added, "If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it. But if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them."
The point he was trying to make in the essay was related to the freedom of speech and expression, but it also holds true on the bigger issues of other freedoms and the implementation and acceptance of law itself.
Though this should be a great cause of hope for those who are critics of a particular regulation or law that a government brings in, in this case, Aadhaar itself or the mandatory linkage of it with other services, Orwell's point is exactly what can be seen as the reason for the failure of the protests against it to make an impact.
Activists, certain lawmakers, and experts have continuously voiced their concerns on the policy of assigning Unique identification numbers to individuals. The previous government had brought it in and has now not only been adopted by the current BJP government but done so with great fervour.
And the latest news of the Aadhaar number being made mandatory for bank account holders, as they will have to link their accounts to it, have raised concerns and anger at the government decision again.
Though the fact is that such a reaction has been limited to those who are on Twitter or follow certain publications which have criticised the whole Aadhaar policy, and has not been seen in the general public.
Those with concerns such as violation of privacy, of false claims made by the government on the benefits of the policy, or the issue of it being unsafe, among others, would point to this very fact that the mainstream media has not highlighted such concerns which are genuine and have serious merit. And in all honesty, such a point would be hard to be dismissed.
The reasons behind such a decision by the media though can be argued. As while the Aadhaar critics have spoken of ulterior motives of news organisations or just a simple surrender to the government of the day, claims which cannot be summarily ignored, there is another point that can be seen as a reason behind the non-coverage of the demerits of the policy. That is, the genuine lack of concern showed by the masses on the issue.
So the corollary to Orwell's point seems to be true, that even if a law may have genuine concerns the fact that the majority does not have issues with it will ensure that it will be implemented without much resistance.
The lack of speed that the Judiciary has shown in dealing with the Public Interest Litigations filed in the Supreme Court on the threat to the Right of Privacy related to Aadhaar, has further added fuel to the anger of critics. And the fact that the Court has also itself made it mandatory to link mobile numbers with the unique number has just made matters worse for them.
On top of having enough adversaries in their fight and lack of interest from the people, making the Narendra Modi government the centre of their criticism and directly blaming it, can be seen as a misstep by the opponents of the scheme. As it makes a leader immensely popular among the masses their opponent which adds to the difficulty for the critics to win, as the general temper that Orwell talked about, is in favour of Modi.
Such a step also failed to make the public realise that it is a policy that every government, no matter which party is in power, wants to be implemented, and the fight for their privacy is not between the BJP and them, but a much bigger one against Orwell's 'Big Brother' state which wants to keep an eye on them at all times.
Along with all this, the fact remains that in a country where a majority of the population, especially in rural areas and urban slums, is still living a life of striving to get food, clothes, their own home, toilets for them to use, education, among many more basic concerns and needs, the issue of privacy or their digital data being stolen, even if realised, are just not a priority.
So while the war on Twitter might be won based on genuine concerns, the realisation that they are fighting a losing battle when it comes to the implementation of the law, must have dawned on all critics. In particular, as more than a billion people have already been issued the Aadhaar number.
And if they are to have any chance of getting what they want, they will have to find ways to bring the masses on their side. Easier said than done, it is the only way forward other than the SC ruling in their favour, the chances for which at present seem dim.
Yet, even if that happens, the chances are that it would be too late as almost the entire population would have an Aadhaar, especially since the government has moved quickly to make it mandatory for certain schemes which are of essential nature.
With time, as the citizens become more aware of the digital reality of the scheme and the threat that it can become for all, the fight against the implementation of such a scheme might gain momentum.
At present, though the chances of this happening seem small as for one reason or the other, the public opinion seems to be on the side of the government and the belief that the scheme will benefit them seems to be instilled in the minds of most.
Whether right or wrong, this what the people want. And going by Orwell's essay, that is all that matters.