The Times of India
New Delhi

The Central Information Commission (CIC) deserves three cheers for its decision to bring six national political parties under the purview of the Right to Information Act. It is a significant and tangible move forward in a debate that has been stalled time and again over several decades: how to ensure inner-party democracy andtransparency in the way parties collect funds and spend them.

These issues were discussed threadbare in a comprehensive report on electoral reforms and standards in political life that a group including Subhash Kashyap, P A Sangma, Mohan Dharia and N N Vohra prepared in 1991. The latter also authored an incisive document on the criminalisation of politics. Add to that at least half a dozen excellent studies on the subject by renowned scholars. No political party paid the slightest heed to this voluminous literature, containing detailed and sensible suggestions to rid our body politic of its infirmities.

Such stonewalling tactics would be difficult to sustain in the wake of the CIC's ruling that political parties are public authorities under theRTI Act since they benefit from government largesse in a number of overt and covert ways. By that very token they will have to adhere to the letter and spirit of the laws on transparency. The challenge ahead is to keep a close watch on how they do this. For a start, the CIC has directed the national parties to appoint information officers who will be responsible for providing information sought under the Act within a six-week time frame.

This mechanism is certain to prove more effective than two directives of the Election Commission. One sought details of property and criminal proceedings, if any, of candidates in elections at the time of their nomination. But there was no way to check the veracity of the information. The EC also made it mandatory for parties to hold organisational elections and file their income-tax returns. But on this score too most parties merely went through the motions. An overwhelming number of national and state-based parties are run like family fiefdoms where democracy is a rumour and transparency a mere trifle. The first reactions of major parties to the CIC's ruling have been heartening but some others, such as the CPM, are sore. The former, who calls the shots at the national level, must now walk the talk to compel the dissidents to fall in line.

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