July 26, 2021
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'The UID Is A Corporate Scam'

'The UID Is A Corporate Scam'

Arundhati Roy in an interview to the New Internationalist magazine:

I have mixed feelings about the anti-corruption campaign. It gathered momentum after a series of huge scams hit the headlines. The most scandalous of them was what has come to be known as the ‘2G scam’ in which the government sold telecom spectrum for mobile phones (a public asset) to private companies at ridiculously low prices. The companies went on to sell them at huge profits to other companies, robbing the public exchequer of billions of rupees. Leaked phone taps showed how everybody, from the judiciary to politicians to high profile journalists and low profit hit-men, were in on the manoeuvring. The transcripts were like an MRI scan that confirmed a diagnosis that had been made years ago by many of us.

The 2G scam enraged the Indian middle classes, who saw it as a betrayal, as a moral problem, not a systemic or a structural one. Somehow, the fact that the government has signed hundreds of secret Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) privatizing water, minerals and infrastructure, and signing over forests, mountains and rivers to private corporations, does not seem to generate the same outrage. Unlike in the 2G scam, these secret MOUs do not have just a monetary cost, but human and environmental costs that are devastating. They displace millions of people and wreck whole ecosystems. The mining corporations pay the government just a tiny royalty and rake in huge profits. Yet the people who are fighting these battles are being called terrorists and terrorist sympathizers. Even if there were no corruption and everything were above board on these deals, it would be daylight robbery on an unimaginable scale.

On the whole, when a political movement is mobilized using the language of ‘anti-corruption’, it has an apolitical ‘catch-all’ appeal which could result in a hugely unfair system being strengthened by a sort of moral police force which has authoritarian instincts. So you have ‘Team Anna’: a sort of oligarchy of ‘concerned citizens’ – some of them very fine people – led by the old Gandhian Anna Hazare, who talks about amputating the limbs of thieves and hanging people and who has praised Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who presided over the public massacre of thousands of Muslims in broad daylight. On the other hand, to shun the anti-corruption movement and set your eyes on a long-term political goal lets the corporate looters and their henchmen in the media, parliament and judiciary off the hook. So it’s a bit of a dilemma.

Recent Indian government legislation permits web content to be shut down for a variety of reasons. Film censorship is still widely used. Why does the state take such a paternalistic role towards what its citizens have to say?

I think overt censorship is slated to become a big problem in the near future. Internet censorship, surveillance, the project of the electronic UID (Unique Identity card)… ominous. Imagine a government that cannot provide food or water to its people, a government whose policies have created a population of 800 million people who live on less than 20 rupees [about 45 US cents] a day, a country which has the largest number of malnourished children in the world, which has, as a major priority, the desire to distribute UID cards to all of its citizens.

The UID is a corporate scam which funnels billions of dollars into the IT sector. To me, it is one of the most serious transgressions that is on the cards. It is nothing more than an administrative tool in the hands of a police state. But coming back to censorship: since the US government has pissed on its Holy Cow (Free Speech – or whatever little was left of it) with its vituperative reaction to Wikileaks, now everybody will jump on the bandwagon. (Just like every country had its own version of the ‘war on terror’ to settle scores.) Having said this, India is certainly not the worst place in the world on the Free Speech issue: the anarchy of different kinds of media, the fact that it’s such an unmanageable country and, though institutions of democracy have been eroded, there is a militant spirit of democracy among the people… it will be hard to shut us all up. Impossible, I’d say.

Read the full interview at the New Internationalist

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