Two things happened simultaneously: Modi government claimed credit for the Aadhaar enrollment reaching the 100 crore mark and former union minister Jairam Ramesh filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the passage of Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill by Parliament.
Though the senior Congress leader has challenged the technicalities of the passage of the bill — Lok Sabha categorised it as a money bill, which meant the Rajya Sabha had only a nominal role to play in the bill's passage— it sends out a message that the Congress wants to obstruct the bill in any way it can.
Ramesh is considered to be close to Rahul Gandhi and it could thus be assumed that he had the approval of either the Congress vice president or the Congress president Sonia Gandhi in filing the petition to challenge Aadhaar. It would be interesting to see how the SC will view this matter, as the decision to categorise a bill as a money bill is the exclusive domain of the Speaker, and whether the SC overrules her decision. This is not the only Aadhaar-related case filed at the SC, it will also deliberate the Bill in relation to the right of privacy.
The SC will arrive at a judgement in due course but the politics behind the process is very interesting.
The question is, why is Congress trying hard to distance itself from the Bill, which once was considered to be a flagship project of Manmohan Singh-led UPA government? Why is the party handing all the credit on a platter to the Modi government?
Aadhaar was initiated by the UPA government. In January 2009, the Unique Identification Authority of India was set up under Nandan Nilekani. Later, in 2010, the UPA government decided to bring a legislation to this effect. In 2012, the UPA government decided to link it to what they called "direct cash transfer or aapka paisa aapke haath", a move which Jairam Ramesh and P Chidambaram called "game changer"and Sonia Gandhi hailed as historic. But the Singh government lagged in its implementation and also did not consider any legislative backing to this effect.
It was UPA's baby which Modi very smartly hijacked and took to an entirely new level both in terms of public discourse and delivery. Former editor of Indian Express and political commentator Shekher Gupta tweeted, "Cong must be kicking itself. If it hadn't let NAC/activists sabotage it, MMS/Sonia pics would've been on #Aadhar ads". He also posted a picture of government ad, published in Hindi, "Ab Aadhar 100 crore Bhartiyon ki
Pahchan" (Aadhaar is now the identity of 100 crore residents of India).
He is right. The Congress could have claimed credit for Aadhaar; instead it chose to create obstacles in giving Aadhaar legislative cover and linking it to financial inclusion, direct cash transfer schemes, subsidies or any other form of payment of government schemes to the individual beneficiaries.
Ramesh's colleague in UPA government, Sachin Pilot, had recently termed Aadhaar as "one of the most transformational initiatives in independent India". He gave credit to UPA government and rightly so. The Congress should realise that when Ramesh moved amendments in the Rajya Sabha, all regional parties excepting the Left, stayed away from it. Regional parties like JD(U), TMC, AIADMK, DMK, SP and BSP realised the futility of opposing the bill.
Modi coined the term JAM (Jandhan, Aadhaar and Mobile). The three are being linked. If Modi succeeds in his endeavour, then the targeted subsidy for LPG, kerosene, monthly ration, MGNREGA, old age pension, student scholarships, unemployment allowances, ex-gratia payments, insurance of various kinds and so on would get directly transmitted to individuals' accounts. That would earn the Modi government enough goodwill to confidently go to polls in 2019. Currently, the centre transfers the money to the states, the state then transfers it to the district magistrates, who in turn send it to Panchayats and to local bureaucrats for disbursement: there are leaks at each step. Through JAM, the middlemen will be cut out and an individual will no longer be at the mercy of the local contractor, bureaucrats and Sarpanchs.
Apart from Aadhaar, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill was another Congress baby. Yet, a day ago at an election rally in Assam, Sonia Gandhi said her party will oppose the bill as it is against the poor. The Congress has its priorities misplaced. And therein lies its problem.