Mamata's Game Of Cards: Why Centre Must Act Against 'Alternate' Aadhaar

Jaideep Mazumdar

Feb 20, 2024, 02:42 PM | Updated Feb 21, 2024, 05:05 PM IST

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee
  • No chief minister can be allowed to defy the Indian union in such a subversive manner. 
  • Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s declaration that she will issue ‘alternate Aadhaar cards’ to all those whose Aadhaar cards got deactivated, is nothing short of sedition. 

    Banerjee, who announced this at a press conference on Monday (19 February), after Aadhaar cards of a few hundred people in three districts of the state for deactivated — due to a technical glitch, clarified the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) — is well aware that a state has no authority to issue Aadhaar cards, alternate or otherwise. 

    The exercise of processing applications for Aadhaar cards and issuing these cards is the exclusive domain of the UIDAI which operates under the sole supervision of the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. 

    However, her stated intent to issue alternate Aadhaar cards amounted to not only challenging the federal government’s authority, but also projecting Bengal as an entity that exists outside the Indian federation. 

    This is seditious and calls for immediate and strong punitive action. No chief minister can be allowed to defy the Indian union in such a subversive manner. 

    It will only encourage other chief ministers to commit what can be termed ‘insurrectionary’ acts and will, ultimately, weaken the country. 

    “We will issue alternate Aadhaar cards that will safeguard your identity and allow you to avail welfare schemes,” announced Banerjee. 

    To be sure, Banerjee had flagged the deactivation of Aadhaar cards of a few hundred people, mostly belonging to scheduled caste and other backward classes communities in Birbhum, and North and South 24 Parganas district, a few days ago.

    That the UIDAI and its controlling Ministry did not act promptly, does no credit to the union government. 

    It was only after junior Union Minister Santanu Thakur and Bengal Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Sukanta Majumdar met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Monday (19 February) that the UIDAI issued a statement that no Aadhaar card had been cancelled and the deactivated cards will be reactivated soon. 

    The UIDAI statement read: “In the course of activities undertaken to keep the Aadhaar database updated, intimations are issued from time to time to Aadhaar number holders. In this connection, it is clarified that no Aadhaar number has been cancelled.” 

    The UIDAI’s statement, and its explanation that the deactivation happened due to “technical problems,” has been met with justifiable scepticism.  

    But all that cannot justify Banerjee’s act of defiance and subversion. She wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking an explanation, but even before receiving a reply, made it a political ‘centre versus state’ issue. 

    Even though she’s well aware that the state has no power over Aadhaar cards, she announced the setting up of a ‘Aadhaar Grievances Portal of Government of West Bengal’ — where all those whose Aadhaar cards that had been deactivated can lodge complaints. 

    Banerjee said that the Bengal government would then issue alternate Aadhaar cards to all those who lodge complaints at the state portal. 

    However, UIDAI already has an effective grievance redressal mechanism and opening a separate portal by the state government is not only a duplication of authority, but also a grave act of defiance and an insidious attempt to undermine the authority of a federal agency. This needs to be countered and discouraged immediately with strong punitive action. 

    Banerjee also took the opportunity to reiterate that she would not allow an exercise to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Bengal. 

    She has already said many times that she will keep Bengal out of the purview of the Citizenship Amendment Act, when the rules governing the Act are framed and signed into a law by the union government. 

    The Bengal Chief Minister has said all that knowing fully well that a federal law passed by Parliament is applicable all over the country and no state can keep itself out of its purview. To do so would be a mutinous and grave anti-national act. 

    No state can say that it will not allow the NRC (prepared along with the first census of the country in 1951) to be updated. Updating the NRC is the exclusive domain of the union government and all states have to unreservedly comply. 

    Interestingly, while announcing her plan to issue ‘alternate Aadhaar cards’ at the press conference, Mamata Banerjee positioned herself against a prominent display of the Indian tricolour. The national flag was also placed on a miniature flag staff placed on her table. 

    She was, obviously, trying to affirm her nationalist credentials. But it reminded one of the Bengali adage: “Oti bhakti chorer lokhon” (overt display of religiosity is the hallmark of a thief). 

    Tellingly, she reminded everyone: “This is Bengal, not Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Bihar or Rajasthan…this is Kaviguru’s (Tagore’s) Bengal.”

    Her intent was clear — to portray Bengal as a geographical and political entity distinct from the rest of the country. That, in itself, is unbecoming of a chief minister.

    Banerjee will fool no one even if she draped herself in the national flag. Because it is what she does and says that is more important. 

    Overt displays of patriotism, while defying the federal government and trying to position Bengal as a separate entity removed from the Indian union is unpatriotic.  

    Banerjee is a habitual offender in this regard. But Monday’s declaration about issuing ‘alternate Aadhaar cards’ crosses a firm red line. This should not be tolerated by the union government, which has to wield the stick  now. 

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    Future of Indian politics and economy is closely linked to the politics and economy of Uttar Pradesh