The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has described as “misconceived and wrong” the Central Information Commission’s (CIC) order that political parties come within the ambit of the Right To Information Act. It said the order stemmed from a “lack of understanding and a basic misconception” about the role of political parties in a parliamentary democracy.
CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat said it was necessary for the government to discuss the issue with all parties and get the necessary clarification incorporated in the RTI Act itself by Parliament. “The CIC has exceeded its brief under the RTI Act by setting out a new definition of political parties. When Parliament adopted the Right to Information Act in 2005, which was supported by the CPI(M) too, the intention was not to bring political parties as ‘public authorities’ under its purview,’’ he wrote in the latest edition of the party organ, People’s Democracy.
Political parties, he said, were not governmental organisations or state-funded entities. There was no constitutional provision for a political party. “A political party is an association of citizens who come together voluntarily to form a party on the basis of an ideology, programme and leadership.”
The CIC order would enable anyone to ask for internal deliberations of a party which “will harm the very mode of inner-party functioning. Within a party, discussions are held on the basis of confidentiality that certain decisions are taken.”
“To demand that such deliberations be made available will be a serious infringement on the nature of inner-party discussions and the way decisions are taken by a political party,” Mr. Karat said adding that the new law could be used as “an instrument” by one party against another as the former could demand information on internal matters of the latter.
On the RTI demands on selection of candidates which could be made under the new CIC ruling, he said, “How a party selects its candidates is its own business. How is it a concern of others? In a democracy, people are free to judge and decide which candidate to vote for or not.’’
“In a democratic system, a political party has the right to decide whom to put up as a candidate according to whatever criteria it wishes to adopt which are within the legal framework.”
Under the existing laws, a person convicted of a serious crime could not be put up as a candidate as he or she would be disqualified. “If there is any need for a change in the law, it can be discussed. But the intrinsic right of a political party to put up candidates on the basis of its own criteria cannot be questioned or subjected to any public scrutiny.”
On transparency and accountability, the article said there was genuine concern over how political parties raised money and funded their activities. There should indeed be transparency and accountability in the funding and finances of political parties. Under the present law, every recognised political party had to submit its annual statement of accounts and finances to the Income Tax Department and to the Election Commission. The Election Commission had been providing information about political parties’ audited accounts and finances to anyone who applied for it under the RTI Act.
“A political party cannot be treated as an NGO, which is getting substantial state funding. Political parties play a vital role in the parliamentary democratic system. That role should not be hampered or infringed upon by dubbing these parties as public authorities.”