Paper Title: Give Me a Database and I Will Raise the Nation-State
Authors: Ranjit Singh
Journal: South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies
This paper draws on an ethnographic study of Aadhaar, India’s biometrics-based national identification infrastructure, to investigate how members of its design team conceptualised and understood their techno-bureaucratic enterprise of assigning unique numbers to Indian residents. Members described their work using the metaphor of building an hour-glass: the Aadhaar number and its authentication services constitute the waist of this hour-glass; below were innovations in biometric devices and above were applications requiring identity verification services. They believed the entire ecosystem sustaining Aadhaar could be controlled by prescribing interactions between the waist and the components above and below. They extended this metaphor to reimagine the Indian government as a platform of services controlling only a specific part of a service—the waist—while opening space for innovation by integrating it with other market services above and below. This paper documents the emergence of this imaginary of ‘platformised’ government collecting real-time citizen data to support personalised state–citizen interactions to unpack how the future(s) of Indian government services shapes and is shaped by it. Such future(s) constitute the Indian population as a database, bureaucracies as centralised dashboards, and government as arbiter in the circulation of citizen data.