State and society reimagined: India’s novel Unique Identification Scheme as a state hi-tech fantasy

  • Itay Noy


Launched in 2009, Aadhaar – also known as the Unique Identification Scheme – is one India's latest large-scale poor-poor initiatives. With the goal of providing all of the country's residents with unique, biometric-based identification numbers, Aadhaar is a particularly ambitious project, which has been depicted by the Indian government as a transformative step that will enable the poor and marginalized to access public services and welfare entitlements. At the same time, Aadhaar has also attracted a fair amount of public critique, pivoting around what is seen as the scheme's potential for state monitoring and surveillance. This essay is an attempt to move beyond the normative polar opposition that composes the public debate on Aadhaar. Instead, it seeks to place this extensive government project within the framework of dreams about the state and its relations with citizens. Aadhaar, it is argued here, rests on an ideological formation that combines utopian, technological, and neoliberal notions about state and society. On a symbolic level, the scheme expresses a desire for responsive disintermediation in state-society relations, to be achieved specifically through a reformation of government ventures in the image of an entrepreneurial information technology start-up. This essay thus provides an analysis of Aadhaar as a state hi-tech fantasy, which can offer an insight into the (post-)neoliberal Indian state.

Author Biography

Itay Noy

International social development consultant (currently Social Policy Consultant with UNICEF South Asia), MSc Anthropology and Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science.


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How to Cite
Noy, I. (2014). State and society reimagined: India’s novel Unique Identification Scheme as a state hi-tech fantasy. The South Asianist Journal, 3(1). Retrieved from