We may not have hospital beds, doctors, ventilators, masks and Personal Protective Equipment for medical professionals. We may be short of ambulances, sanitisers, medicine and para-medics. But so what? We are not short of apps and now have the Arogya Setu app, the magical tracing device that will tell us there is a coronavirus patient within a kilometre.
It will undoubtedly tell the government a lot more. It will have access to everyone’s contact details on the phone. It will know exactly which places we visit and for how long. Our visits to the pharmacist, the liquor shop or the mistress will be logged. If we visit protest sites like Shaheen Bagh, the police can come after us after six months and book us under UAPA and take us kicking and screaming to prison, where we can cool our heels because for two years, we would not be allowed to seek bail or approach any court.
It will help the government determine hotspots, containment zones and mark areas in red, orange and green on important-looking maps in control rooms. The Government may not be able to guarantee you timely medical treatment, a decent quarantine centre or a ventilator and doctor when you need them. But what the hell, isn’t data important in fighting the pandemic? And surely, we don’t want our already blind government to fight the virus with one more blindfold tied on their eyes?
And, the Government be blessed. The app also requires consent. No consent, no need to download the app. It may have been made compulsory though but our efficient and reasonable government doesn’t believe in doing anything without our consent. So, the app will be compulsory with consent.
This may sound absurd to some but it sounds perfectly reasonable and logical to union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar who have stoutly denied that the app is a sophisticated surveillance tool.
The Government’s move is of course going to be challenged in the Supreme Court. But the credibility of the apex court now is such that several lawyers are already shaking their head and predicting what will follow.
The redoubtable Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, who has become a household name in the last few years because of his robust arguments in court, will tell the court that the app is necessary, it is safe, it is for restricted use, that contact-racing has been done by China and Singapore and that stakeholders have been consulted.
Well, the Supreme Court will then naturally say that the Justices see no reason to disbelieve the Government, which surely knows best.
Sceptics, however, will remain sceptics. So, one of them wisecracked that this Government (read the Prime Minister) believes Mobile apps can set right everything. Railway reforms ? Free wi-fi and mobile app; Relief to farmers? Kisan channel and mobile app; Health? Arogya Setu mobile app; Financial reforms? Bhim app. The list is even longer with Namo app leading the pack. It certainly looks as if apps will lead us to Ram Rajya.
An even more crucial question is how the Government plans to leverage the Arogya Setu app with only 30 percent Indians having smart phones. What if some of the remaining 70 percent get infected? The Government will then remain in the dark and all its tall claims of using data to mark hotspots and containment zones will fall through.
Reminds me of the dialogue from the Hindi blockbuster Deewar. Underworld don Amitabh Bachchan asks his brother and honest cop Shashi Kapoor that while he had cars, bungalows and wealth, what did the latter have? Shashi Kapoor famously said, “Mere paas Ma hai”.
Prime Minister Modi can similarly turn around and say that he may not have hospital beds but “Mere paas App Hai”.