A few weeks before the national elections, www.SmartVote.in organized an open house where people could meet candidates contesting from various parliament assemblies in Bangalore and ask questions to them. Captain Gopinath was contesting from the prestigious Bangalore South constituency. He was one among the favourite candidates – honest, accountable and upright. Many questions were fielded to him during the open house ranging from what he would do about corruption to how he would improve the conditions in the city. One of the questions raised to him was how would he ensure that people’s opinions were reflected in the passage of important bills. To this, he replied that he would constitute a special committee comprising of people such as Mohandas Pai of Infosys and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, among others, who he would consult on bills and legislation before casting his vote. He seemed to suggest that these persons’ opinions reflected those of the masses and hence, consultation would them would automatically imply obtaining views from the public. This both concerned and surprised me – how and why are corporates considered to be representing my opinion?
Just yesterday, news broke out that PM Manmohan Singh has called upon Nandan Nilekani to head the Unique ID Authority of India and implement the project. It appears that Nilekani has been promoted almost to the rank of a cabinet minister. On what basis was such a decision made and why was Nilekani the choice? It concerns me even more because in the past, Infosys’s own track records on accountability have been suspect and that Chief Ministers have held shares and stocks in Infosys. Moreover, Infosys was criticized for accumulating land under the Bhoomi e-governance project.Why is it believed that corporates can be more accountable than governments and/or politicians? What places them above these institutions and actors?
Advocates of free market liberalism would proclaim that corporates are more responsible and ensure that tasks are executed efficiently because they must deliver to their clients. But to pose the corporation as the efficient and accountable opposite of the unaccountable government is again going against the grain of the principles of freedom – it is like replacing one hegemonic institution with another under the presumption that the corporation is likely to be more upright.
For now, the question remains why Nilekani and why a unique ID card for “efficient” delivery of services to the poor. How does one understand this paradigm shift in the distribution of public goods and resources?