New Delhi: As the Supreme Court started the final hearing into the constitutional validity of the government's Aadhaar programme, Congress president Rahul Gandhi took a swipe at the NDA government for turning the project that his party had started to empower people, into doing the reverse.
In the original version conceived by the previous Congress-led UPA government, Mr Gandhi tweeted, it was a voluntary instrument to empower citizens. NDA's Aadhaar, however, was "a compulsory weapon to disempower citizens".
Aadhaar was launched by the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government in 2009 to reduce the government's subsidy bill and remove duplicates from the home ministry-driven national population register that was inspired by BJP patriarch LK Advani's identity card project.
But after an attempt to enact a law was foiled by parliamentary panel headed by the BJP's Yashwant Sinha, the UPA government worked around the absence of statutory backing for the law by issuing executive instructions. Also, it continued to remain a voluntary exercise but it was mandatory for people to enrol for the national population register.
After the BJP-led NDA government came to power in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chucked the population register in the deep freezer and put his weight behind Aadhaar. When a stay by the Supreme Court stood in the way of mandating use of Aadhaar to identify beneficiaries for subsidies, the NDA government got parliamentary approval for a law in 2016.
Rahul Gandhi's jibe comes just weeks after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley accused the Congress of changing its position to oppose the legislation after assuming the role of opposition in Parliament. "Where do you stand now literally depends upon where you sit in the House," the minister, who had piloted the Aadhaar law through Lok Sabha, said last week.
It is a charge that the Congress has consistently dismissed, underscoring that it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who criticised Aadhaar in the run-up to the 2014 general elections, and later forced it upon people.
"The Aadhaar that we had conceived was perfectly compatible with the right to privacy. It is not Aadhaar that is inconsistent with the right to privacy. It is the interpretation of this government... which is an invasion of the right to privacy," former Home Minister P Chidambaram had said after the Supreme Court upheld the right to privacy as a fundamental law last year.