Source: 
Live Mint
http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/jmFZRpwL5seSDs1GPx8qHO/RTI-is-the-biggest-threat-to-democracy.html
Date: 
07.06.2013
City: 
New Delhi
In a democracy, transparency and accountability are strictly for the common man, just as privacy and secrecy are strictly for the state
 
The ostensible logic behind the CIC ruling is that political parties should be subject to public scrutiny as they are beneficiaries of the state’s largesse. Photo: HT<br />
The ostensible logic behind the CIC ruling is that political parties should be subject to public scrutiny as they are beneficiaries of the state’s largesse. Photo: HT
 
The preposterous order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) bringing political parties under the Right to Information (RTI) Act is a frontal attack on democracy that deserves to be condemned in the strongest terms. Our reputable political parties, who have been at the receiving end of this legislation whenever they have formed or been a part of a government, are understandably concerned at this brazen attempt to drag them into the pit of transparency and accountability.
The biggest problem with the CIC ruling, in the words of RTI activistSubhash Chandra Agrawal is that it “will increase transparency in political parties, which, in turn, may help in curbing things like scams and corruption cases.”
Evidently, the assumption is that financial transparency of political parties is a good thing. If you take the six national parties that have been brought under RTI by the CIC ruling—the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI (M), the Communist Party of India, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)—as of today, none of them provide details about party finances. A voter has no way of knowing where they get their money from, which businessman or arms-dealer or poverty-stricken Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Scheme (MGNREGS) labourer contributes how much to which party, how the money is spent, how much the office-bearers are paid, etc.
But then, does he really need to know all this information? In any case, how can a citizen who gives nothing to a political party except his vote—just one vote—expect the same level of accountability from it as someone else who contributes his vote plus, say, Rs.40 crore? Won’t political parties then be forced to ignore those who have contributed hundreds of crores in expectation of some return in the form of a lucrative contract or policy change or regulatory clearance? How can a democracy function with such excessive transparency?
As a matter of fact, if only this whole RTI nonsense had been nipped in the bud, the Adarsh scam may never have become public, nor the Commonwealth Games scam nor the 2G scam nor the scores of other scams that barely merit a media mention because the amounts involved are not comparable with the mega-scams.
And we all know how disruptive these corruption scandals can be, for they caused serious discomfort to the democratically elected UPA government. Can we then fault the Congress general secretaryJanardhan Dwivedi for correctly pointing out that the CIC ruling “will create a lot of harm and damage to democratic institutions”? Do we want our political parties also to be subjected to such damage wrought by RTI cowboys filing query after query in their quest for the next big scam?
The ostensible logic behind the CIC ruling is that political parties should be subject to public scrutiny as they are beneficiaries of the state’s largesse. According to the petitioner, the New Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), the Congress and the BJP alone have received subsidies from the government worth Rs.255 crore. Plus they get free air time on Doordarshan and All India Radio, not to mention substantial income-tax exemptions. While all this could be true, it would be absurd to argue that this renders political parties answerable to the taxpayer whose money is subsidizing them.
As we all know, a citizen’s duty in a democracy begins and ends with the casting of his or her vote once in five years or whenever elections are held. Any political engagement beyond that is a threat to democracy. We have already seen what a nuisance these so-called civil society groups are turning out to be. It is high time we brand all of them as terrorists and put them behind bars on cooked up cases. What we do not want to do is strengthen their hands by allowing the manufacture of fresh ammunition for the RTI weapon, for that is what this CIC ruling amounts to.
Our national parties have responded with admirable courage to a populist order coming at a time when the national mood seems to be marked by an unseemly and rather childish hostility to corruption. The Congress, to its credit, has never failed to take credit for RTI, despite having suffered tremendous harassment as a result of this legislation. The BJP, obviously as a matter of principle, refused to respond to an RTI application from ADR seeking full information about its funding and assets. As for the NCP and the BSP, fortunately, neither the squeaky clean Sharad Pawar nor the incorruptible Mayawati has anything to worry from the order. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t oppose it in order to safeguard our democracy and national security.
The CPI-M, as you’d expect from a party driven by ideas, has criticized the order as being based “on a fundamental misconception about the role of political parties in a parliamentary democracy”. This is a fair and insightful comment, for CIC mistakenly assumes that political parties are accountable to the citizens they claim to represent, forgetting that they are accountable only to themselves and their donors.
All said and done, we must never forget that in a true democracy like ours, transparency and accountability are strictly for the common man, just as privacy and secrecy are strictly for the state, corporates, and allied public and private institutions. Our political parties must, therefore, be congratulated for taking a principled and moral stand against an adventurist interpretation of a dangerous legislation that is threatening to unravel the fabric of impunity that holds together the political fabric of the nation.

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