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HindustanTimes Thu,27 Nov 2014
Oh, tell us Daddy!
Indrajit Hazra, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, June 09, 2013
First Published: 00:27 IST(9/6/2013)
Last Updated: 00:45 IST(9/6/2013)
Not on a need-to-know basis: At Mantri Square mall, Bangalore.

There's a stage in a person's life when he can get curious about how he came into this world. I'm told that most people with such a query first ask the person closest to them, which is usually a parent. The query is about how humans are born. But to a child, the question becomes specific: How did you [parents] get me?

I never did ask my parents - or, for that matter, anyone else - this supposedly primal question. I crawled towards the answer over years by ruffling through books that included my gynaecologist grandfather's colour-plated tomes (that put me off fruits forever) and then later my school biology textbooks. But I've heard about other youngsters being told at some stage about how a stork had brought them, or how they popped out of their mother's stomach, or how they came in a box after their parents had ordered for them in a store, or in one case, how the person was brought in from the Calcutta Corporation office.

Only some parents give the kid the whole shebang about daddy and mummy going through the triple combo of coitus, conception and childbirth. If the Right to Information (RTI) Act covered this awkward terrain, parents would have been bound to disclose some 'unnecessary' details about the Triple-C procedure. So most parents, I reckon, are grateful that such facts of life do not fall under the RTI for the benefit of some curious twat.

While India's people are slowly but surely getting out of the notion that their relationship with the State and its various apparati is not a guardian-ward one, the State and its various apparati that include political parties (not to mention entities mimicking the State such as the Board of Control for Cricket in India) still see themselves as ma-baap entities doing what's 'best for their children'.

So when last week, the statutory body of the Central Information Commission (CIC) issued an order that six political parties come under the purview of the RTI, the guardians not only saw this as an attack on sacred filial bonds, but also as the laying out of a welcome mat to the destruction of democracy. As Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi put it like an outraged tau, "Such an adventurist approach will create a lot of harm and damage to democratic institutions... Getting political parties entangled in such unnecessary things will damage the democratic process." You're forgiven for thinking that this is a father railing about a school's decision to teach sex education to kids.

The issue of the CIC bringing political parties under the purview of the RTI Act, thereby allowing applicants from the citizenry to ask questions regarding functional or financial matters of a party, has been seen as political overreach by politicians and a few, pardon my French, political structuralists. After all, in a climate based on trust - the lynchpin around which the eternal relationship between the ma-baap and the ladka-ladki revolves in our democracy - to allow such queries is to breed mistrust.

The problem with this today-it's-about-political-parties-tomorrow-it'll-be-about-your-dinner-parties argument is that a critical mass of Indians don't trust political parties any more. Having an RTI to get valid queries - their validity as defined by the Act - answered isn't as much as an attempt to expose political parties  as it is to get them to talk more easily about themselves with 'their' people. To write off such 'unnecessary' ('adolescent') questioning as being the devil's tool to be used only by (Maoist-sympathising?) politically-motivated bounders is like wanting traffic laws scrapped because there are corrupt cops out there on the streets haranguing people so as to make an extra buck.

The wranglings over whether the CIC is right or not in considering political parties as being non-government organisations "substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds" provided by the government - and therefore eligible to stand under the RTI's viewfinder - is as theological as deciding how many angels a politician should have as part of his security posse. The CPI(M) even used this opportunity to not only tell everyone that "the bulk of the funding and finances for the parties do not come from the government or any State institution" but also to advertise that "the CPI(M) does not even accept funds from the corporates which is legally permissible" - thereby answering what could have been a nice, future RTI query: 'Does the CPI(M) accept funds from corporates?'

Political parties want everyone to believe that coming under the RTI means some Sacch Ka Saamna-style sub-third degree 'accountability' torture routine being inflicted on them and 'democracy'. There are other institutions such as the Election Commission and Income Tax Department for all that. By the very gesture of refusing to be part of any information-seeking mechanism regarding party functioning, finances and other matters even more opaque than Karunanidhi's glasses, India's political class and viziers have let out one uncomfortable truth: they don't want the 'aam bacche log' to question their 'pitashri-matashri' authority. And they certainly don't want to be asked uncomfortable questions - not about where they came from, but about where they're headed.


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