UPA scheming comeback using Aadhar


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21 Oct 2012

 
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In an event in Rajasthan held with much fanfare, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched an initiative on linking Aadhar to the delivery of subsidies and public schemes. The speeches at the event were lacklustre but the political significance of the event lay not so much in the speeches but in what this would come to mean to the UPA’s target voter. The promise of direct cash transfers in lieu of subsidies is a significant shift in a welfare regime that has been viewed as both corrupt and inefficient. To fully appreciate the likely political significance of Aadhar being linked to UPA’s flagship welfare schemes, one needs to pay attention to what has been envisaged, away from the media glare on high profile corruption and the UPA’s all-round incompetence.

The UIADI in February of 2012 put out a white paper on “Aadhar enabled Service Delivery”. The white paper is a 40 odd pages long document.  While explaining how it intends to make the UID the foundation for a whole host of public transactions, the white paper gets specific on welfare programs, financial inclusion, subsidy management with a particular reference to LPG, Telecom and more.  While the white paper is pretty elementary in its description on how the Government intends to use Aadhar, it practically lays out a political roadmap for how the UPA can extricate itself from the political mess it finds itself in by shifting the public discourse from negativity of corruption and incompetence to the promise of hard cash.

The Congress might very well succeed in effecting such a shift given that the anger over corruption is largely an urban middle class phenomenon. It would take much more than angry rhetoric to counter the Congress’ clever attempt at using Aadhar and the promise of “direct cash” to script its comeback ahead of the 2014 general elections. The Congress, to its advantage, also has the Nandan Nilekani wild card to play given his relatively low profile heads down tenure that has focused on execution and on laying the foundation for the most potent political weapon for the Nehru-Gandhis.

“Cash-based payments to Aadhar linked accounts” seems to be the new political mantra for the UPA’s revival ahead of what appears to be a tough electoral path over the next 2 years. The UIDAI vision document on “Aadhar for service delivery” is not short on imagining all kinds of technology solutions to make the promise of hard cash happen. From a home grown Payments Bridge to Micro-ATMs for funds withdrawal, the success of this belated attempt by the UPA to change the discourse depends on flawlessly executing on all of these technology systems.

In a column written in The Pioneer a few weeks back, this columnist had pointed how poor the UPA’s track record was on execution of its own flagship schemes. As an example, the Times of India, earlier in the week carried a rather grim story of how the UPA’s much-touted mid-day meal scheme had been mismanaged in Rajasthan. Rajasthan, which has been the laboratory of NAC left liberalism and the petri dish of every conceivable rights-based entitlement program, could not even get its execution right on many of those spending schemes. Given this dismal track record on execution, the UPA’s latest political innovation may yet suffer from poor execution in states ruled by it while Opposition-ruled states walk away with much of the political credit, given their relatively superior track record on execution.

The Congress, that has been at the receiving end over corruption and policy paralysis, will do all in its power to project the delivery of Aadhar linked Services as ‘Centrally Sponsored’ as it seeks to shift the public discourse.

The Opposition parties including the BJP-led NDA have generally been ambivalent in their attitude towards UID and Aadhar. While registering proforma opposition in Delhi, many of the BJP-ruled states have quietly focussed on execution in collaboration with UIDAI. The issue of direct cash transfers has not triggered much political debate either, given its appeal to many across the political spectrum. It would however be a political mistake to let the Congress go unchallenged on Centrally-engineered cash transfers based on Aadhar. To premise such a political challenge on the perils of Aadhar would be equally foolish as well. Privacy concerns over UID are a non-issue to the rural BPL voter. The smarter political line for the Opposition to take would be to co-opt Aadhar-linked Welfare delivery, recasting it in their own image while objecting to the Central engineering of cash transfers on the grounds of federalism.


Shashi Shekhar is the CEO of Niti Digital. Views expressed here are his personal opinions and do not in anyway reflect the Editorial Stance of Niti Central.

(c) NiTi Digital. Reproduction and/or reposting of this content is strictly prohibited under copyright laws.


 
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  • MANISH

    there is not an iota of innovation in such a thinking.
    afterall, this is what congress has been doing since last many decades.
    the loan waiver of 55000 crore as a election sop last election worked for them, and may work for them this time too.
    only challange to them would be the middle class living in cities, who are well-aware of the scheming congress.

    lets see how they think of congress and it’s lackeys.
    although the trend is clear, with numerous defeats at assembly elections, 2014 would not be very interesting.

  • Jitendra Desai

    Execution is the key.Good example is 108 service in Gujarat.It was introduced by Congress state govt in AP.Very few Congress [ or even BJP ] state govts have opted for a world class emergency medical help service like this.Another example is of funding through JNURM.Most cities in Gujarat are being transformed through this funding.Beneficiaries are BJP and Modi.[ Surat in south Gujarat has been electing BJP in Surat Municipal Corportation since last so many years, thanks mainly to this spending under JNURM!]
    Can this ADHAAR based cash transfer system tilt the balance in favour of the Family? It can.But if it could.So would Loan waivers,Loan melas,MNEREGA,JNURM,Indira Awas Yojna,Rajiv Gandhi Bijlee yojna and so on.Right from the days of late Pt Nehru, Congress has given us only YOJANAS.Now people want to see results.Especially when they see that leaders like Modi or Nitish or Shivraj Singh or Raman singh are able to deliver, task of Congress leadership becomes difficult.As Modi could be lampooning them in his election rallies as “This ADHHAR being NEERADHAAR [ without support] while delivering”
    People/voters look at WHO is executing a plan rather than who has prepared it.People also now know that funds are not made available by The Family or by Delhi.It is people’s money.And there is enough money to go around.

  • http://sepoywatch.blogspot.in/ Malavika

    The village poor are suffering badly because of high inflation huge power cuts. It is the oppositions job to make people aware that this scheme is like any other Congress schemes, where the middle people take away half the money. And then the rest is not enough to pay for the higher inflation.

    Besides, where will the money come from, as it is we have high fiscal deficit?
    The opposition should also come up with less taxation and lower inflation as poll mantras.

  • Kes

    One fact that no one seems to have noticed is that Aadhar’s mandate was changed from being a “number for each citizen” to “number for each resident”. In other words, a Bangladeshi can now happily come to India, legitimately obtain an Aadhar card, and then get a cash gift every month at tax-payer’s expense.

  • Arvind

    Is Nandan Nilekani next MMS for UPA3?

  • Mukesh Kamath

    I am a BJP supporter and an aadhaar supporter too. There are thousands and millions of people like me. If BJP in its manifesto says it will discontinue aadhaar then i will vote for Congress. Here in karnataka i will vote for JDS because theirs is superior execution and thinking. If and only if Narendra bhai becomes PM candidate and BJP promises to continue aadhaar, will i vote for the BJP.
    I feel in 2014 there won’t be any PM candidate from either side. BJP has a bleak chance. Congress election expenses should include 2.5 lakh crore they are going to transfer every year from now till 2014. UPA-III is a certainity given present circumstances.

  • http://ibnlive.in.com/news/nilekani-slams-kejriwal-says-passing-a-law-cant-solve-corruption-problem/301655-37-64.html Kumar

    Good points. What makes even a normal UID supporter squirm, is Nilekani’s recent outburst against anti-corruption protests (Kejriwal).

    http://ibnlive.in.com/news/nilekani-slams-kejriwal-says-passing-a-law-cant-solve-corruption-problem/301655-37-64.html

    It is one thing for Nilekani to claim that his UID/Adhar will help to reduce corruption (to some extent, some types of corruption). But it is another thing to claim that Lokpal laws or exposing individual corruption cases will NOT help. That claim raises my suspicion ! What is Nilekani upto ? What does he know, that you and I don’t know ? UIDAI is not a substitute for anti-corruption laws or whistleblowers or social activism or political parties or democracy itself !




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