Interview: Sitaram Yechury

‘A grave encroachment on individual privacy’

Print edition : April 15, 2016

Sitaram Yechury. Photo: R.V. MOORTHY

Interview with Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

THE Left parties opposed the manner in which the Aadhaar Bill, 2016, was introduced as a money Bill in the Lok Sabha and then transmitted to the Rajya Sabha for its consideration. Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said the Lok Sabha Speaker ignored the provisos of the definition of money Bill in Article 110 of the Constitution. He said the main intent of the Bill had more to do with individual profiling, using the national security clause, and less to do with reaching subsidies to beneficiaries. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

What is your fundamental opposition to the Aadhaar Bill? In Parliament, you demanded clarity on whether it was a money Bill or not.

On the Bill being transmitted and certified as a money Bill, we raised serious objections and continue to do so. I think there will be a judicial review. Article 110 (1) defines a money Bill [see box]. A money Bill can only be within the ambit of Article 110 (1). Article 110 (2) defines what cannot be a money Bill. Article 110 (3) says that in case of a dispute, the decision of the Lok Sabha Speaker will be final. Our point is that the Speaker cannot go beyond the jurisdiction of 110 (1) and 110 (2) and our opinion is that the Speaker went beyond her jurisdiction in this case. Because 110 (3) exists and because the National Democratic Alliance [NDA] lacks a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the Narendra Modi government took such a step to circumvent the Rajya Sabha, which is an affront to parliamentary democracy. The Speaker has to certify that this is a money Bill. We raised it in the Rajya Sabha. The Rajya Sabha Chairman announced that the House had procured the certificate declaring it as a money Bill but the Speaker has to give reasons why she decided that it was a money Bill. The reasons have not yet been given. The government clearly knows that what it is doing is not acceptable as far as the content of the Bill is concerned. This is as far as the form is concerned.

Various aspects of the Bill are objectionable. One, a five-judge Supreme Court bench is examining whether the fundamental right to “life and liberty” enshrined in the Constitution includes personal liberty. The Aadhaar Bill, as it stands today, violates the personal liberty of an individual because all the information about an individual contained in the Aadhaar card can be made available to any agency. The Bill, as it stands now, says the information can be made available upon request. This is a nebulous definition. What is this request and from whom and for what purpose?

Accessing this [personal] information is prohibited worldwide. Apart from violating the personal liberty of the individual it can also lead to profiling. Modern civilisation has seen how under Hitlerite fascism homes of Jews were marked. This was at a time when technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today. Such profiling will become easier with technology. Targeting individuals in the pursuit of converting a secular democratic republic into the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s [RSS] version of a Hindu Rashtra will be easy when such profiling can identify individuals on the basis of their religious faith or political beliefs or on the basis of any other criteria.

In response to our question in the Rajya Sabha, the Finance Minister, who moved the Bill, said that for considerations of national security, this personal information of Aadhaar could be shared with national security organisations. This is a dangerous perception, particularly when the Modi government brands at the drop of a hat people who oppose it as anti-national. We have seen this happen in the case of students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, the University of Hyderabad, Jadavpur University, Allahabad University and now Fergusson College in Pune. We have seen how the idea of national security was used during the Emergency. Many of us who today hold important positions in Parliament were jailed under the infamous Maintenance of Internal Security Act, or MISA, during the Emergency. The definition of national security or internal security then was on the basis of such large-scale arrests of all opposition leaders. I pointed this out to the Finance Minister who was himself a victim of the Emergency. We cannot permit this government, with its Hindu Rashtra agenda, to misuse the term national security given the fascistic definition of nationalism that it is trying to impose on the country, to find a legal backing as the Aadhaar legislation provides.

The third objection is the provision to add on various technological advances that will permit individual profiling as part of information gathered by the Aadhaar agency. The government argues that as technology is developing, fingerprints are being replaced by the impression of the heel of the foot. Now we have the technology for better individual identification through the iris of the eye. As technology develops, DNA profiling and other biological traits can be collated under this provision. This has the potential of gross misuse as individuals with recorded biological infirmities can be subjected to many sorts of attacks. It must be recalled that Hitler experimented with Jews in the concentration camps to confirm his theory of Aryan superiority. Such dangerous possibilities are being opened up.

This Bill constitutes a grave encroachment on individual privacy.

Would the substitution of the term national security with public safety or public emergency, as suggested in the amendments moved by the Congress in the Rajya Sabha, remove the apprehensions that have arisen over the clause on national security?

These are highly subjective interpretations. Take the campaign on nationalism and the insistence on shouting one slogan. Various slogans are an embodiment of patriotism. Netaji gave the slogan of Jai Hind, Bhagat Singh gave Inquilab Zindabad, which became a rallying cry against the British during the freedom struggle. Hindustan Zindabad is the slogan raised in all cricket matches today. Just because someone does not shout Bharat Mata ki Jai, does it make him/her an anti-national?

The Bill is ostensibly meant for the effective delivery of subsidies to the targeted population.

The claim of targeted delivery under Aadhaar is entirely suspect. Below poverty line [BPL] cards already exist. The BPL card system is fraught with corrupt practices. The objective of the Bill is to exclude. The Supreme Court ruled that the Aadhaar card is not the only basis. The argument is tenuous. The CPI(M) has always believed that targeted delivery of subsidies is faulty; subsidies for the poor have to be universal. Many States are already following it. There is free rice supply in many States. Using the Aadhaar information, the Centre could decide that only a certain quantum of foodgrains stock will reach the people, thereby undermining the welfare programmes of those States. Ever since the NDA came to power, there has been a drastic reduction in food, fertilizer and kerosene subsidies. When global oil prices are falling in a big way and prices are rising back home, this makes a mockery of subsidies.

What then is the real intent of the Bill|? Why was the opposition unable to rally support on the issue?

The real intent of the Bill is individual profiling. It is to break the opposition ranks; the government adopted many unscrupulous methods—silencing many opposition parties through various deals, which over time will surely be exposed. This is “match-fixing.” This was apparent when the Trinamool Congress, which had initially opposed the Bill, walked out of the Rajya Sabha when voting on the amendments began.

The Aadhaar Bill was referred to a parliamentary standing committee when the United Progressive Alliance was in power. A unanimous opinion was presented to Parliament. The NDA government has ignored that committee’s report. The reason the Bill was taken up as a money Bill was also to circumvent the examination of the Bill by a select committee.

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