The Unique Identity (UID) Project and the New 'Bureaucratic Moment' in India

Date: Oct, 2011
ODID Working Paper No. 194
Author(s): Swagato Sarkar (Jindal Global University, India)

At various points in its career the Indian state has deployed technologies to govern the country. In its latest move, the state has undertaken a number of large scale projects to install digital technology, the most controversial of these is the Unique Identity Project, an ongoing project which is registering the biometric, along with demographic, information of the residents.

In this paper, I will try to understand what is politically at stake in this technological intervention. I would like to explore whether these interventions signal a shift in thinking around the institutional, while negotiating the political in a particular way; whether it reconciles the participatory and procedural impulses of Indian democracy - negotiates with particular claims; and whether it brings a change in the state-citizen relationship.

I will argue that these interventions cannot be understood as an orthodox neoliberal policy initiative - rather it articulates a new 'will to power' and a desire to segregate, yet preserve the state, and free the executive from the encumbrance of populist democracy. Theoretically, the main thrust of this paper is to understand the 'general economy of power', as Michel Foucault calls it, which is unfolding in India around the issues of capitalist growth, inequality, governance, social protection and technology.

ODID Author(s)