A year ago, Nandan Nilekani operated out of a small, makeshift office with just the bare essentials. Today, the plush, wood-panelled office of the Unique Identification Authority of India chairman bears witness to the estimable rise the 52-year-old Nilekani—and his pet Aadhar project—has seen in the past 18 months. Despite many doubters, the co-founder of Infosys has led a charmed existence in government, feted for his business-like approach in stewarding the project to give identity numbers to millions of Indians, an exercise unprecedented in scale globally.
The calm inside Nilekani’s office, however, doesn’t reflect the storm raging outside. Over the past few months, Aadhar has been the subject of a viral attack from various quarters—cabinet colleagues and bureaucrats, policy experts and activists, even a few state governments. Everything, from Nilekani’s procedures for data collection and the potential errors therein to concerns over privacy, is being questioned. Besides, the existence of an older exercise, the National Population Register (NPR), led by the home ministry, is threatening to derail the project.