Legendary British Parliamentarian, Tony Benn, rightly stated that those in positions of economic, social and political power should always be asked five questions: What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you use it? To whom are you accountable? And, how do we get rid of you?
The very essence of a truly democratic nation remains implicit in these questions. Taking away the right to ask these questions spells the death knell for democratic principles, more so for a country that claims to be the largest democracy.
The Government of India, in the Supreme Court, has opposed a plea to bring political parties under the purview of the Right to Information Act. A petition filed by RTI activist Subhash Chandra Agarwal, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan and the NGO, Association for Democratic Rights, suggests that all political parties be placed within the ambit of the RTI act. The Central Information Commission (CIC) has declared all national and regional political parties to be public authorities under the RTI. The petition has been filed against the non-compliance of political parties towards this order of the CIC.
The primary argument that the Central Government puts forth against political parties being placed within the RTI, is that opposing parties may misuse the RTI as a tool to hinder the functioning of other parties. Furthermore, they argue, political parties are not created by an act of parliament or by the constitution and hence, cannot be termed ‘public authorities.’However, this argument contradicts the principles within which a democratic nation is firmly rooted. It is in the interest of maintaining an efficient, working democracy to have political parties accountable to their voters. Voters must be ensured the right to know the sources of the financial resources of their parties. After all, it is the members of these political parties who claim to represent the people. Are they being funded by big businesses? How are various parties placed in terms of financial assets? It is important for voters to ask such substantial questions and get them answered in order to lend credibility and legitimacy to political figures as the true representatives of the people. If political parties had nothing to hide pertaining to their financial assets and its sources, they ought to have no opposition to being placed within the RTI, allowing the public to question their activities.
It is is an autocracy that individuals are denied their basic rights and freedoms. In an autocracy, the authority of the leaders is not allowed to be questioned. Autocracies are not representative of the people they govern. Denying people of the largest democracy a right to inquire about the details of the parties from which their leaders are elected, shakes the very foundations of a democracy that has been carefully built and sustained over time.