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Bringing Political Parties Under The Ambit of RTI

The modern democratic dispensation derives its legitimacy from the people. People are the source of power and integrally form the soul of the whole machinery. It is the people who are to be governed making it indispensable for the system to function without draped covers that inhibit their sight. Access to information is one of the vital tools in the hands of the public to fight corruption and augment the efficacy of governance. In India, the Right to Information Act, 2005 was enacted in the direction of making people active participants of the democratic process by ensuring that symmetric information exists between the rulers and those ruled. In the context of the modern democratic dynamics, institutional power is not limited to the pillars of Parliament, the Executive, and the Judicial System. Its aegis include a very vital institution known as political parties.

Political parties in a democratic setup

As evident from the contemporary experience, power in a modern democracy originates from people through the medium of Political Parties that can undoubtedly be called the integral building units of any democracy. They have the potential of channelizing people's aspirations and sentiments to the lofty power centers of the polity. According to the 2019 listing, by the Election Commission of India, there are more than 2600 political parties in India, seven of which wield immense dominance over the political atmosphere of the country affecting the democratic climate and electoral mood of the people. It is the political party that holds its grip on the people's representatives sitting in the wells of the legislature. Even the policymaking leadership traces its allegiance to a party which gives the impression of transforming people's representatives into that of the party. Such is the critical role being played by parties in the country.

The institution becomes supra active during the elections when the established parties indulge in a nexus of crony capitalism to source a bulky quantum of money into their political campaigns. Ironically, it's a harsh catastrophe that a greater chunk of these funds remains in the garb of anonymity due to hidden interests. A brewing example is the 2018 Electoral Bond scheme which claims to reduce the influence of black money by enabling donations to be made in the form of bonds with the identity of the donor remaining undisclosed. The Dalai Lama famously remarked, "A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity". It's unethical to entangle information of public interest in the cobweb of political discrepancies. Thus, forces of corruption are unleashed in the society creating dissatisfaction among the people. Civil society organizations argue that the concept of "anonymity" threatens the very spirit of democracy. In such parlance, an indirect democracy appears to create a sheer separation between those ruled and ruling. The spectrum of information is important for the citizen to make informed opinions.

Secondly, it is needed for fixing the accountability of those elected and ensures that the office-holders stick to their oaths and care about people's wishes. Nelson Mandela was amongst the sternest supporters of the right to information as he believed that 'apartheid' was existing in South Africa because of the absence of information amongst the masses. Hence, information: accurate and complete, becomes inevitable to keep the sanctity of people's rule intact.

The bone of contention

In 2013, the Chief Information Commissioner issued a landmark judgment that united even the fiercely opposing sections to take a similar stand. It aimed to bring all the recognized political parties of India under the umbrella of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The Act is widely hailed for its role in strengthening the position of a common man vis-à-vis the establishment and shackling the sacrilege of corruption that has held our democratic institutions for ages.

The CIC order was based on the premise that the national political parties INC, BJP, CPI (M), CPI, NCP, and BSP have been substantially funded by the Central Government and therefore they are held to be public authorities under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act. The order was elicited after activists from the Association of Democratic Reforms appealed to the CIC in 2010. Their plea proposed that the six political parties should disclose the details of voluntary financial inputs received by them with the names of donors and their addresses. The verdict was historic in every sense of the term. As pointed out by Satyananda Mishra (then CIC) "the little man of the country would have the elementary right to know full particulars of a candidate who is to represent him in Parliament where laws to bind his liberty and property may be enacted".

The Debate

The fact that the CIC order has still not been complied reflects the complicated rhetoric knitted by the parties over the issue. The opponents of the order challenge it on the grounds related to maintaining the secrecy of their strategies and contend that the very role of parties in the parliamentary setup is different from other political institutions. They have apprehensions over how the term "public authorities" is legally defined.

On the contrary, democratic enthusiasts welcomed the order. The RTI activists and the common population of India have numerous strongholds to support their arguments in favor of bringing political parties under the ambit of RTI. The legal battle is based on the fact that political parties have been allotted land in posh areas of Delhi and other state capitals, they're even provided exemption from Income Tax (under section 13A) by the Central Government. It's argued that the parties are privileged with the allotment of cost-free airtime slots on Doordarshan and AIR, during the Lok Sabha and State Assembly Elections. On the constitutional front, political parties are required to be registered with the ECI under the Representation of People's Act, 1951, and are under the purview of the ECI. Moreover, the 10th Schedule of the Indian constitution gives the parties the power to recommend disqualification of members of the house under some situations, Thus, giving them a constitutional obligation and status. The reasons articulated are enough to validate the constructive debate going on in the country.

A Final Word

India, the world's largest democracy is moving forward making progress in every domain of social and economic life. The political and electoral front needs strengthening. The proposed electoral reforms suggest that political party donations should be regulated and even setting up a funding mechanism where the funds would be allocated by the government, eliminating the role of crony capitalists in the sacred structure of Indian democracy. To bring parties under the umbrella of RTI could be the first step in the direction of reforms and preventing the notion of Plutocracy taking roots in the nation. Parties can't be expected to do so unless a positive political consensus is not evolved in the country. The desire for information can only lead to dispensing more information. Indians have strongly dealt with the most severe crises in the past that could have been detrimental to the integrity of the nation and came out of every hazard as a healthier and a more mature democracy. The success of the RTI movement would eventually strike the Indian mark on the canvas of democracies, raising its stature and accomplishing the INDIAN DREAM.


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