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Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint (Jayachandran/Mint)
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

Free markets, free speech

Mint has been a supporter of Aadhaar but the newsroom has also honestly chronicled the opposition to the scheme

The first edition of Mint carried a note by the then Views Pages Editor Niranjan Rajadhyaksha, who is now the executive editor, summing up Mint’s editorial philosophy. It’s a newsroom that stands for free markets and free people—everywhere, he wrote.

The Mint Newsroom has largely adhered to that philosophy although there have been times when the sheer objectiveness of our coverage may have made us sound like left-leaning liberals.

Not surprisingly, Mint has always been a supporter of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the scheme to give 600 million Indians Aadhaar cards. The newsroom, and several reporters, have honestly chronicled the opposition to the scheme from privacy activists, left-leaning liberals, some of whom are convinced the Aadhaar numbers will be misused to target religious and other minorities even as others continue to look for perfect solutions, some bureaucrats, and the home ministry. The newsroom has equally honestly chronicled the achievements of UIDAI.

Even on the op-ed page (and the online equivalent of that), where there is intellectual room to carry opinions with which the edit page doesn’t necessarily agree, Mint has given opponents of UIDAI enough play.

On Friday, for instance, Himanshu, one of Mint’s smartest columnists and perhaps one of the few people in the country who understands the agricultural economy, wrote that the only motive behind the government’s cash transfer programme may be to save the UIDAI programme and sort of give it a reason to be.

He arrived at this reasoning by first proving that there were no other significant benefits of cash transfers, and then, in a leap of logic, reached the conclusion that this must mean the only reason for their introduction is to save UIDAI.

To be sure, the limited nature of the cash transfer programme in its initial phase as well as the haste with which it is being pushed through by the government may have made our columnist arrive at the conclusion he did.

I think it is a conclusion that ignores India’s slow march towards a cashless economy, the result of factors such as increased access to mobile telephony and banking services (for my bank, for instance, my phone number is my unique ID). The government’s move towards a unique ID for all residents, the Aadhaar number, fits into this, but this is a transformation that would have happened even had there been no such number (although it may have just taken longer, and there may have been some issues in the rural hinterland).

I also think it is a conclusion that assumes the government’s cash transfer programme will not evolve and grow to include even food and fertilizer subsidies. Then, I’ve noticed that most people critiquing a possible solution always evaluate it from the perspective of the ideal and perfect one, while conveniently ignoring that it is far better than the one currently in use.

And, finally, I think it is a conclusion that penalizes Aadhaar for now having not just the government’s complete support (which hasn’t always been the case), but also the political support of the Congress, which, as my colleague and Mint’s deputy managing editor Anil Padmanabhan pointed out, sees cash transfers as something akin to its popular job guarantee scheme, MGNREGS—a scheme that will appeal to voters.

P.S: I did read the column before we carried it. Mint believes in hiring columnists on the basis of their intelligence and ability to make people think with their writing, and then giving them adequate room and freedom to express their views, irrespective of the opinion of the newsroom and the editor of the newsroom. The only things we watch out for are: libel, slander, and conflict of interest.

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