Friday, 26 June 2009

The richest Indian cabinet just got a little richer

Nandan Nilekani was given a cabinet rank yesterday. His portfolio - the National ID project.

Nandan Nilekani has increased the average/per-capita wealth of the cabinet. According to the National Election Watch, cabinet was already the richest cabinet in Indian history. They just got a little richer.

This cabinet is probably the most unrepresentative cabinet in Indian history. It has become a club of the wealthy. More than anything, it is representative of nepotism and the inequitable distribution of wealth in this country. We cannot any more afford to be in denial that we are a polyarchy.
You can read more about polyarchy here.

When there is no concept of Social Security in the country, why have a "social security number"? I have a PAN Card, Ration Card, Election Card, Driver's License and Passport. Why do I need to be identified any further? There are over 800 million people living on less than a dollar a day in India. I cannot see how the diversion of resources to this grand scheme is going to address real issues (food, water, education, healthcare etc) in any way. It will allow the government and private sector participants in the scheme to monitor a lot of what the common man does. It will also pave the way for rampant identity theft.

Nilekani's new role is an eerie reminder of Larry Ellison's grand scheme after 9/11 to pull in some revenue for Oracle through a National ID scheme in the US. This scheme, like many other, was riding on a wave of fear created in the American media about terrorists, terrorism, WMDs and Islamophobia.

The current government's flirtatious overtures to the corporate sector are ominous. It is apparent that we will get a CII budget and key sectors that affect the poor might be privatized in the next five years. Social Security - even if it is just a number, is the best excuse that the government will have to continue to adopt the privatization model.

While the Indian cabinet gets richer, 800 million Indians who subsist on below a dollar day will get poorer because they cannot be "identified". At the same time, the government will start tracking other citizens who have been “identified”.

On a related note, many people (like me) who condemn violence but believe that violence has roots in oppression and a lack of development will be labeled as "maoist sympathizers". I find it hard to believe that 1000s of people who have less food then what was available to their peers during the Bengal famine would be interested in the philosophy of Chairman Mao and his little red book. They are more likely to go to any extent to get food and a glass of water for their families. Unfortunately, this includes armed struggle. While these rotten egg realities hit the fan, we invite mining companies to these very same districts and call the poor “insurgents”. Leaders who do not hesitate to develop IT platforms for these companies get “cabinet rank”.

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