Who is ‘orchestrating’ public opinion on Aadhaar?

The Supreme Court has commenced final hearing on the Aadhaar case on January 17. The UID project, which has been at the centre of controversy since its inception has seen strong arguments from both sides of the spectrum- those in favour and those against. Recently, a number of instances have come to light wherein there has either been a leak of Aadhaar data or it has been misused by vested interests. Each time, proponents of the Aadhaar project have played down fears of misuse of the project, stating that the system is fool-proof and secure. Nandan Nilekani, former Chairman of UIDAI and a vocal proponent of the project had alleged that there were attempts by certain sections to launch an ‘orchestrated campaign to malign Aadhaar’. Nilekani’s statement came in the wake of an article published by The Tribune which revealed how demographic data of 1.2 billion citizens could be accessed by paying a paltry sum of Rs.500.

On the same day of the apex court’s final hearing on the Aadhaar case, Nilekani wrote editorials that were carried by two leading newspapers- Times of India and Hindustan Times. Neither of these newspapers carried a counter-opinion on the Editorial page.

Nilekani’s article was tweeted by members of the ruling party. Since the morning of January 17, a number of Union ministers have tweeted using the hashtag #AadhaarMythBuster.

As has been seen in the past in many cases such as when the #DemonetisationSuccess hashtag was trended, a Google document was created with template tweets.

TREND ALERT : #AadhaarMythBuster
TIME : 10.00 AM

Congress with the help of secular section of Media has started…

Posted by Partha Pratim Das on Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Google doc #AadhaarMythBuster

These template tweets were tweeted using the #AadhaarMythBuster hashtag , listing the purported benefits of Aadhaar and seeking to dispel ‘myths’ and ‘misconceptions’ related to the project.

Meanwhile, the UIDAI on January 16, just a day before the final hearing, had issued full-page advertisements in leading dailies.

The Aadhaar project has constantly been in the eye of the storm. Proponents of the UID project claim it is a defining move that will end the scourge of corruption, leakages and ghost accounts apart from ensuring targeted delivery of services with precision. Critics on the other hand have raised concerns over the spectre of a Universal Identification number linked with biometric data, claiming this will herald the end of privacy and result in mass surveillance, apart from the data being misused by unscrupulous elements.

It is worthwhile to note that the UIDAI has not taken kindly to criticism with regard to the project. Earlier this month, it named The Tribune and its reporter in a police complaint. On previous occasions, it has blocked critics on twitter.

Genuine grievances which have been raised by citizens on social media with regard to the UIDAI project have not only been brushed aside by the establishment, but given a political colour by suggesting these concerns are motivated. On the other hand, a concerted effort to manipulate public opinion in favour of the project can be observed. Conducted in an organised manner with the political class, mainstream media and social media working in tandem, the organised nature of the campaign is more in the nature of orchestration than the issue of citizens raising the matter in a dispersed manner on social media.

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