Sunday, November 21, 2010

Article in the Indian Express - November 21, 2010

The following article appeared in my Sunday column 'Un Intended' in the New Indian Express.

Goofing Up Identification Documents

Harimohan Paruvu
One of the fall outs of President Obama’s recent visit was the mini crisis created by the President’s men who wanted all sorts of identity proof from the guests they had invited for a function. The na├»ve personnel must have sought common proof like driving licenses, PAN cards and passports which, they mistakenly assumed, all Indians would happily provide. But our leaders categorically stated that they would not provide any such proof, and even hinted at boycotting the function if it was insisted upon. Stumped by this unforeseen development, the Americans blamed clerical errors as always, and got on. 

But surely, the Americans must be baffled. Why such stiff resistance by our leaders, they might have wondered. Now, that’s something only we Indians know. In the USA, their leaders would probably have all kinds of id proofs to flash. But in India, it could take years to get correct id proofs, even with every document intact. And, it’s even more difficult for our leaders, because they normally don’t have any proof - of residences, families, incomes or anything. Most don’t own houses, cars or businesses. In fact most leaders don’t even exist once they get voted into power. So getting genuine id proofs for our leaders is next to impossible, especially at short notice. 

If the id proof was so important, the US Consulate could have invited the common man in India. We guys have all the id proof that anyone needs. We can produce ration cards of all colors, gas connections, phone connections, passports, PAN cards, SIM cards, driving licenses, voter id cards, marriage licenses, insurance cards, lifetime members cards - the common man lugs thousands of cards around to prove that he is himself. There is one small problem though; all our id proofs conflict with one another. They bear wrong names, wrong spouses, wrong children, wrong houses, wrong incomes, wrong bank account numbers, wrong photographs and wrong everything. Rarely will any two documents match, making it seem like the person is going around with multiple ids, like a secret service agent, or a terrorist, or both. So Subramanyam in a PAN card could become Super Man Yam in the voter id card, (a simple clerical error of course), causing the suspicious Americans to raise eyebrows and put Supre Moon Yun into jail. (In fact many Subramanyams prefer to remain Super Man Yams because more cards mention him thus!) 

That’s not all. All Id proofs with the correct details are invalid as they are not issued by designated authorities. And since all designated authorities appear to have undergone special training to give id proofs that are incorrect, one can never have a valid id proof. Catch 2222! Thankfully, everyone in India knows that the goofed up documents are genuine (and anyone with all documents in order can be arrested straightaway for forgery). But no one knows why we cannot have a perfect set of documents. Maybe it is to help the common man explore himself thoroughly, from all angles.

Who am I? Am I the wrong name with the right address, wrong spouse with the right gas connection, right PAN card with wrong bank account number and so on. And by the time all this is set right, he might just forget who he really is. So my Yankee friends, you can either invite our common man (with invalid id proofs) or our id proof-less leaders (and accept their relative’s proofs where all real proof is). Far as we are concerned, we’d rather wait for the next Presidential visit than get id proofs that satisfy you. It’s too exhausting.


Prasanna Kumar said...

Wonderful one. :) so funny but so true.

But on the serious side they do have a plan to get an ID card for all Indians I guess, Now the point is., how big scam thats going to be.


Harimohan said...

Hope not. Hoping Nandan Nilekani will not let go of the project until he delivers it in which case it should not be a problem I should think. We can proudly display our id cards then!

Rajendra said...

What proof do we have that you posted this one, Hari? Ha, ha.

Harimohan said...

Raja, you could as well say checkmate!