Transparent Political Parties
IN A RADICAL ruling, the Central Information Commission (CIC) said last week that India’s political parties were public authorities and answerable to citizens under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. It is noteworthy that the order is apropos of six national parties–the ruling Congress party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India, and the Bahujan Samaj Party. The ruling means that these parties, if queried, will now have to divulge sources of funding as well as details of expenditure. Here, it is worth mentioning that this ruling does have dire implications for India’s political class. The most immediate aspect would be transparency on how political parties are funded. No doubt, reform on this issue could be one of the most transformative experiences for our polity. But it is doubtful whether the CIC’s judgment can deliver that desired reform. So, in the present background, we need to make unified efforts to govern, regulate and watch over political parties. The endeavours should be to infuse inner-party democracy, to have transparency in how parties choose their candidates, and, of course, ensure transparent accounting of income and expenditure. Against this backdrop, it can aptly be said that the decision of CIC is a landmark step in the right direction of transparent and accountable political culture. Now the political parties will have to provide information under the RTI Act. For, no one can deny the fact that most of the political parties receive large chunk of funds from public, so there is a need for greater public scrutiny. The members of political parties talk about the principle and tenets of transparency and accountability in public life regarding government, but when it comes to their own party, they show hesitation and unwillingness. This order will definitely ensure the reduction of circulation of black money during elections, if implemented in letter and spirit. Further, it will provide other candidates a chance to try their luck in Indian political fray, as elections will not be driven by muscle and money power. Now, there is need to provide protection to elated RTI activists in order to develop a salubrious system of transparency and creating a road map for information society.
The Right to Information Act is a comprehensive legislation enacted to confer statutory rights on the citizens of India for seeking information from any public authority. This has opened new vistas of governance through transparency and accountability in administration. True democracy cannot exist unless all citizens have a right to participate in the affairs of the polity of the country. RTI activists Subhash Agrawal and Anil Bairwal of Association of Democratic Reforms, in their petition, said that large tracts of land in prime areas of Delhi and other state capitals have been placed at the disposal of the political parties in question at exceptionally low rates. Besides, huge government accommodations have been placed at the disposal of political parties at hugely cheap rates, thereby bestowing financial benefits on them. Furthermore, it is no secret that political parties get various benefits from governments like liberal tax concessions, free airtime during elections, security cover for their leaders and security during meetings, processions, etc, so, in this background, the CIC’s judgment is historic and laudable. It will bring transparency to the functioning of the parties and increase the confidence of voters. The ruling will go a long way in strengthening our democratic values. But, approaching the court by political parties against this order may prove to be suicidal for them, with the nation set to go to the polls in 2014. Therefore, at a time when money and muscle power have shattered the common man’s faith in electoral politics, the CIC’s verdict is a decisive step towards bringing transparency to the electoral system. People will henceforth get to know the sources of party funds. The fact that most parties are opposed to bringing themselves under the RTI Act shows their half-hearted commitment to transparency and accountability. It is amusing to note the objections raised by the political parties within the ambit of the RTI Act. Hence, people should be doubly vigilant to ensure that this great opportunity to make political parties accountable is not cruelly snatched away from their hands by the cunning manoeuvres of the political class. Any party that opposes this historic CIC decision should be rejected by the people in the elections. People are supreme in a democracy. By coming under the purview of the Act, the political parties will not surrender their independence to anyone except the people. Thus, this is an important step. One has to watch out, lest the political parties play black politics to wriggle out of the new procedure. Also the Election Commission has to remain alert and on guard so as to ensure its own sense of equity and impartiality and to implement the measure strictly. For, transparency in the functioning of political outfits will help cleanse our public life.