Congress leads charge against move, saying it will harm democratic institutions

Most of the national parties have not taken kindly to the order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) that would bring them within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The Congress has said such an “adventurist” approach will harm democratic institutions.

The BJP, which initially welcomed the verdict, quickly did a “course correction,” contending that there was no clarity on several issues triggered by the order, especially a possible overlap of the roles of the Election Commission and the RTI body.

“It is not acceptable. We totally disagree with it. Such an adventurist approach will create a lot of harm and damage to democratic institutions,” All India Congress Committee general secretary Janardan Dwivedi told journalists here on Tuesday. Questioning the pragmatism of the move, the BJP said the Election Commission should spell out whether parties should declare their assets to the CIC.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) termed the ruling unacceptable.

On Monday, the CIC, a quasi-judicial body, held that the parties were public authorities and answerable to citizens under the RTI Act. It said the Congress, BJP, Nationalist Congress Party, CPI(M), CPI and the Bahujan Samaj Party have indirectly been funded substantially by the Central government, and they had the character of a public authority under the RTI Act as they performed public functions.

In the wake of the order of the CIC’s full bench, the parties will be answerable to citizens about their source of funding, how they spend money and their choice of candidates for elections, among other issues.

“Getting political parties entangled in such unnecessary things will damage the democratic process. We simply cannot accept it,” Mr. Dwivedi said, arguing that the move would encroach upon the right to privacy of political organisations which did not receive any grant from the government and were voluntary organisations.

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said, “We are finding that there is confusion about the overlapping role of the CIC and the EC. While the BJP wants political parties to be transparent and accountable, and is already responding to the poll panel’s orders, the EC will have to clarify.”

The CPI(M)’s Polit Bureau said it could not accept the order, which was based on a misconception of the role of political parties in a parliamentary democracy.

Given the serious implications of the order for the political party system and parliamentary democracy, the matter should be discussed by the government with all parties so that suitable steps could be taken to preserve the integrity and role of parties in a democratic political system, it said.

Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav said the order was in “no way justified” as “political parties are not shops.” "We are totally against this move," he said, urging the Centre to thwart it.

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