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Democracy is not just an ideal but also an aspiration for a just system of governance, and a model of what a ‘good’ society looks like. Democracy at its most basic is the rule of the majority, the rule of the commoners, and it was the most successful political idea of the 20th century (Ball, Dagger, & O’Neill, 2016). However, democracy as we know it is under serious threat. The political climate today reveals how the old champions and power centers of the West such as the United Kingdom and the United States are moving towards non-inclusive and even discriminatory social policies, defying the packaged dream called democracy (Inglehart & Norris, 2016). What we see in the last decade is entrenched oligarchy in this region that has resulted in what Thomas Piketty has shown us is an astonishing widening of social and economic inequality (Piketty, 2014). As these nations become inward looking, nostalgic of a fictional monochromatic past of a non-diverse state, nations beyond the West have gained credence in promoting alternative models of governance for the common good. This paper examines two new models emerging from the Global South,specifically India and China, enabled by new digital technologies.

The first model, the Biometric Identity initiative known as the Aadhaar or the Unique Identification Number (UID) project in India is an ambitious and historically unprecedented databased model of governance. Major news outlets such as the BBC endorse this effort as they report how the poor, “with no proof to offer of their existence will leapfrog into a national online system, another global first, where their identities can be validated anytime anywhere in a few seconds” (Arora, 2016b, p. 1684). The goal of the project is to provide a unique identification number to each of the 1.2 billion Indian citizens through the capturing of their fingerprints, iris scans, and photographs. This consolidated digital identity will serve as a primary portal through which citizens can gain access to all social services such as welfare, banking and food subsidies for those at the margins of society. It aims to bring all of the undocumented poor into the system.

About the author

Payal Arora
Payal Arora is an Associate Professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam and Founder and Executive Director of Catalyst Lab, a center that ignites relations between academia, business and the public on matters of social concern. In 2018, she was a ZeMKI Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Bremen. Her research challenges normative understandings of the impact of new technologies on the world’s marginalized communities. She has published over fifty papers in the last decade on poverty and technology, researching digital practice in the favelas in Brazil, slums in India to the ghettos in the Bronx in New York. She has authored books on this subject including the awardwinning Leisure Commons: A spatial history of Web 2.0, Dot Com Mantra: Social Computing in the Central Himalayas, Crossroads in New media, Identity and Law, and the upcoming book The Next Billion Users: Digital life beyond the West with Harvard University Press. She has given more than 130 talks in 76 cities in 30 countries. Arora sits on several boards including the Columbia University’s Earth Institute Connect to Learn, the Technology, Knowledge & Society Association, and the World Women Global Council in Ne
w York. She was a Fellow at GE, ITSRio and NYU.