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A wrong premise

A wrong premise
Highlights

Political party bashing is the fashion of the day. Of course, for right reasons. The prevailing culture is making the citizen cynical. The institutions like Central Information Commission (CIC) and the apex court, giving expression to people’s disenchantment with party system in India, have started acting firmly.

Political party bashing is the fashion of the day. Of course, for right reasons. The prevailing culture is making the citizen cynical. The institutions like Central Information Commission (CIC) and the apex court, giving expression to people’s disenchantment with party system in India, have started acting firmly.

The CIC held in 2013 that political parties were also public authorities under the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005. The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought response from the Centre and the Election Commission of India on why political parties should not be brought within the ambit of RTI. Notices were also issued to all the six national parties, seeking their stand on the question.

The latest move of the apex court renewed the debate on whether or not the political parties should be brought under the RTI aimed at empowering the citizen against the non-transparent public authorities. In fact, the Law Commission in its 170th report had also called for transparency in the functioning of political parties. Political parties are the instruments of democracy.

Lack of transparency and accountability in the political party system is detrimental to a healthy democracy. The move to include political parties under the purview of RTI essentially stems out of this concern to reform party system. It’s, therefore, a laudable objective. But, the cure cannot be worse than the disease.

The argument for inclusion of political parties within the ambit of RTI is based on a flawed understanding of the role and functions of political parties in democracy. Political parties are not funded by government. The citizen has a right to know the sources of political finance and the manner in which these funds are to be spent.

The election law and the income tax laws enforce disclosure of finances of political parties. The shortcomings in the process can be addressed by suitable legislative changes. In fact, the Law Commission has already made several recommendations to this effect.But, the CIC‘s argument that political parties are substantially funded by the government is a misconception and the consequent stand that the parties would be public authorities is, therefore, erroneous.

However, the political financing should be in public domain. Considering political parties as public authorities is not only a wrong premise, but can lead to unwarranted interference in the functioning of political parties. The internal functioning of political parties needs to be democratised.

But open public access to all the matters pertaining to political parties may undermine the party system itself by making them vulnerable to internal dissensions. Invoking the anti-defection law to accord statutory status to parties is a wrong assumption. The Schedule X of the Constitution does not apply to all the members of a party but only to the members of legislature.

As the CIC judgment of 2013 described, political parties are the life blood of our polity. They should be made accountable but not undermined. As parties compete with each other, bringing them under the RTI may lead to internecine political wars rather than promoting transparency.

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