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Posted at: Jan 11, 2018, 12:40 AM; last updated: Jan 11, 2018, 12:48 AM (IST)

Aadhaar, EVMs tools of autocracy?

MG Devasahayam
There is a parallel between the UIDAI action in The Tribune case and the Election Commission of India's attitude on the integrity of EVMs. The technology of these two instruments is not 'infallible'.
Aadhaar, EVMs tools of autocracy?
MG Devasahayam
A former bureaucrat

AN FIR has been against Rachna Khaira, a reporter of The Tribune, by the Delhi Police. The offence is her expose of a massive Aadhaar fraud in which, for a small sum of money made to a payment bank, an agent of a private group allegedly created a gateway to access details contained in an individual's Aadhaar card. 

Coming under criticism, the UIDAI spokesperson has offered a specious argument that it was "duty bound" to disclose all the details of the case and name everyone who is an active participant in the chain of events leading to commission of the crime. According to him, the UIDAI's act of filing an FIR should not be viewed as targeting the media or the whistleblowers or 'shooting the messenger.' But he said nothing about the core question that is agitating the minds of everyone: how safe is Aadhaar and what is the agenda behind its mad pursuit by the powers-that-be?

Commenting on this episode, the newspaper's Editor-in-Chief said: "The Aadhaar is not a misconceived project, but its security and impregnability are yet to be fully assured." I beg to differ. Aadhaar, as is being pursued in India, is one of the most misconceived and autocratic project ever conceived and implemented. First and foremost, the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 (the 'Aadhaar Act') was itself a fraud on the people and Parliament since it was introduced and passed as a money Bill in the Lok Sabha without referring it to the Rajya Sabha. 

Once this fraudulent act was completed, Aadhaar was rammed down the throat of everyone despite a clear order of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on October 15, 2015: "We will also make it clear that the Aadhaar card scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this Court one way or the other." This 'decision by the court' is still pending, but the state, in total defiance, has been spreading terror and panic to coerce the citizens to obtain Aadhaar card and link it to every conceivable purpose/service, including public distribution system, old-age pension, NREGA, healthcare, LPG supply, disaster relief, bank account, income tax return, mobile phones, school admission and even birth and death certificates.

This is being done despite the fact that millions of citizens will be denied their right to access many of these essential public services. It is already evident that making it compulsory in food distribution in some states has excluded many needy and deserving citizens without cause. 

Besides, Aadhaar allows for unprecedented surveillance of every citizen and massive invasion of privacy. It can be used by governments at different levels to target all kinds of dissent. Because it enables data-sharing even by private companies, it renders all citizens vulnerable to identity theft, fraud, cyber piracy, data breaches and other uses of their personal data with very serious security implications. 

This is precisely what was exposed in The Tribune and the response of UIDAI was typical of an autocratic state — deny the message and shoot the messenger! For the government and its minions, Aadhaar is infallible because it is high-tech and anyone questioning it commits blasphemy and is anti-national. 

It is the same mindset that dominates Election Commission of India (ECI) when electronic voting machines (EVMs) are being increasingly questioned. The integrity of EVMs has been challenged from the time they were introduced in 1999. It flared up in 2009 soon after the UPA's victory in the parliamentary elections. The most articulated opposition to the EVM came from those aligned to the BJP. 

The grounds on which EVMs were trashed were: the whole world has discarded similar EVMs; their use is unconstitutional and illegal; EVM software and hardware are not safe; EVMs are sitting ducks; insider fraud, storing and counting are concerns; ECI is clueless on technology and there is trust deficit. 

But the ECI dismissed it all by just saying that the EVM technology is infallible. 

When the EVMs were challenged after the 2017 assembly elections in UP, Uttarakand and Punjab, the ECI again dismissed them, claiming infallibility. The commission challenged the political parties to prove that the EVMs are tamperable and set the date as June 3, 2017. This came to be known as EVM 'hackathon'. This much-hyped 'challenge' turned out to be a damp squib since the ECI refused to give the access code and share the memory and battery number of machines!

This time around, the ECI had already fortified itself with a stringent mandamus in favour of EVMs and gag order against its criticism from the Uttarakhand High Court which unilaterally certified that EVMs are not hackable and tamperable, because they use some of the most sophisticated technological features. The gag order barred all political parties, individuals, media and even social media networks from criticising the use of EVMs. The Chief Election Commissioner claimed one-sided victory in the non-event and declared that the issue of tamperability "stands closed". When criticism persisted, the ECI moved the government, seeking contempt powers to prosecute the dissenters. All these came handy when the issue cropped up again after the recent Gujarat elections to summarily discard all discordant voices using the shield of 'infallibility'!

The Emergency of the 1970s is considered as the darkest period for India's democracy. This is how civil rights stalwart Rajni Kothari described the state of affairs then: "It was a state off-limits, a government that hijacked the whole edifice of the state, a ruling party and leader who in effect treated the state as their personal estate. It was the imposition of a highly concentrated apparatus of power on a fundamentally federal society and the turning over of this centralized apparatus for personal power and aggrandizement. It was one big swoop overtaking the whole country spreading a psychosis of fear and terror…."

Are things any different now? They are a shade worse. With these two instruments of 'infallible' technology — Aadhaar and EVM — before long, democracy might get replaced with autocracy!

(Views are personal)

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