Frenzied lamentations

Can a person be a mass murderer and a Gandhi devotee at the same time? A jihadist and a peace-lover simultaneously? A sinner and a saint? A oenophile (wine connoisseur) and a teetotaler? A scholar and an ignoramus? A libertine and a celibate? The answer to all these questions is undoubtedly a ‘no.’ In a similar vein, one would have expected the logical incompatibility between big state enthusiasts and libertarians. Anybody striving for government intervention to eradicate or reduce poverty can be anything but a champion of liberty. But in the wonder that is India such preposterous incongruities abound. One of them is Jean Drèze, a Belgium-born Indian economist well-known for his Left-leaning views. Having worked all his life enlarging the size and scope of government, he is now aghast that “India is at risk of becoming a surveillance state.”

But, Dr. Dreze, the question is: who began it all? You can’t just heap all the blame at the doorstep of Prime Minister Narendra Modi; you can’t absolve yourself from the sins of enchaining the people of India.

Currently, Visiting Professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University, Dreze once adorned Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s caucus called the National Advisory Council (NAC). Father of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), he drafted the first version of the legislation. Since the NREGA is modern India’s biggest feudalizing measure, rendering millions of free citizens as serfs of the gigantic lord, the state, Dreze’s names should occur high in the list of modern enslavers.

And yet, he laments about the seeding of the Aadhaar number in databases that “will be accessible to the government without invoking any special powers. Permanent surveillance of all residents becomes a possibility. Only a simpleton would expect this possibility to remain unused” (The Indian Express, May 8).

What were you, Dr. Dreze, when you ignored the possibility of state surveillance when you conceived the rural employment guarantee scheme? A simpleton? Or just a Leftwing intellectual, absolutely disdainful of commonsense and empirical evidence? How is it possible for a state to shower its munificence in the form of doles and not to account for it?

Now, having fashioned a scheme that makes serfs out of freemen and freewomen, Dreze and his ilk are lamenting that the state would know about its beneficiaries. It is like a butcher shedding tears for the animals he slaughtered throughout the day.

Dreze’s lament emanates from his ignorance of a basic fact of life: in a liberal democracy, government can’t just give away money to somebody or some set of people; everything has to be accounted. In the Hindu tradition, true charity is regarded as a completely selfless act, an act carried out of pure love for fellow beings. It is this reason that the ideal form of charity is regarded as the one in which the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing.

However, a democratic government is answerable for the money it spends; it has to not only keep an account of it but also ensure that the money is not wasted. It was for this reason that Aadhaar was conceived—and conceived when the folks like Dreze were in the reckoning. More than reckoning for, as an NAC member, he had more say in the government than many ministers.

But now that the Narendra Modi government is using the same Aadhaar, Dreze has suddenly found Orwellian designs in it. I too am critical of Aadhaar, but this is because I am against the very idea of welfarism. Logically speaking, one cannot be a proponent of welfare measures and opponent of their effective implementation, which Aadhaar ensures.

Yes, Aadhaar has the potential of making India a surveillance state. But then if you demand everything from the government, it will also demand something from you. As former US president Gerald R. Ford said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”

You can’t have welfarism without some form of surveillance. For you can’t have your cake and eat it too.