Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rahul Gandhi opposes RTI amendments …..BJP plays opportunistic game

The BJP played opportunistic politics on the subject of convicted MPs/MLAs, by privately supporting the move to overturn the SC order, but publicly opposing it (the ordinance route), creating a public impression that the party was in favor of clean politics. A similar charade is now being orchestrated on the amendments to the RTI Act, which seek to exclude political parties from its ambit.

The BJP has perfected this style – of speaking both, for and against an issue at the same time. Like on the Food Security Bill, a section of the party spoke strongly against it, calling it a political move. It cited frivolous reasons like inability to procure large quantities of grains, high fiscal burden etc. to justify its opposition. It tried everything to stall the bill from being passed. A different section however claimed that the Chhatisgarh model was even more generous than the Center’s proposed law. That the Congress was fooling the public etc etc. This style works well for the party, protecting it against any unanticipated public opprobrium, providing it an escape valve in case of public criticism. In the case of the convicted MPs/MLAs for instance, the party supported the government initially, then gauged that the public mood was against it, so made the claim that it had always opposed it.

In the case of amendments to the RTI Act as well, the BJP is playing this exact same game. Its leaders have expressed opposing views on the subject.

The first public comment from the BJP was reported in the Indian Express on the 4th June, immediately after the CIC passed its order including political parties under the RTI: “BJP is not against anything that brings transparency and accountability which is equally applicable to all. We will follow the law," said BJP spokesman Capt Abhimanyu” (http://tinyurl.com/q72svv7).

Later, on 5th September, the Hindustan Times reported: “Sources say senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley suggested at the BJP’s Parliamentary Party meet on Tuesday that rather than exempting just political parties from the ambit of the Right to Information Act, all non-government bodies that are public authorities because they accept government funds be exempted. The logic: it could be legally untenable to exempt just political parties and not similarly funded entities — like NGOs, clubs etc — from the law’s purview. Either they should all be out of it or all should be included in it, his argument went” (http://tinyurl.com/pdazw3v). Aha, so a well thought through strategy…..of supporting the amendments right?

But reporting on the same party meeting, the ET wrote this on 4th September: “BJP leader Arun Jaitley has told his colleagues that the party's support to amendments to the Right to Information Act is not "ethically or constitutionally tenable" while Sushma Swaraj has defended the decision, exposing the sharp differences within the main opposition over its strategy in Parliament” (http://tinyurl.com/nvmnfnr). It appears from this that it was actually Sushma Swaraj who supported the amendments and Arun Jaitley who opposed them. The BJP never issued any clarifications to these divergent media reports. Why? Because it found it convenient to let the confusion prevail. Further, maybe jostling for the holy space with Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj was reported by TOI as saying “We told the government that lawmakers excluding themselves from RTI doesn't send the right signal” (http://tinyurl.com/ojjryaw). Convenient. How very convenient!

As public opinion turned against the amendments, the BJP took a public stand against them (but continued to privately support them). It opposed the bill in Parliament, demanding that it be referred to the Standing Committee. Why did it not just demand that the bill be withdrawn? Without the BJP’s support, the bill would be a non-starter since others like the TMC and BJD had already been opposing it. But the BJP preferred to refer it to the standing committee, where as everyone knows the proceedings are held outside of public glare. The BJP would be able to support the amendments there. The same trick again: oppose in public, support in private. Keep options open.

As further evidence of this, consider the fact that Narendra Modi has not even bothered to opine on this subject. One reason could be that he is keeping his options open; the other could be that he anyways doesn’t care much for the RTI. Remember, Gujarat has just 1-2 state information commissioners, while even smaller states like Punjab have 10 or so. But if public opinion goes strongly against the amendments, expect Modi to make a fiery speech blaming the Congress!

Media reports have now indicated that Rahul Gandhi is opposing the proposed amendments, going against his party’s current line, preferring that financial matters be made open to RTI queries, but other confidential matters – appointing of candidates etc – be kept out. Now that Rahul Gandhi has spoken, the BJP can be expected to make a funny statement like “we forced the Congress to change its stand”! See the deception???!

The real truth is that the BJP has no opinion of its own. It exists only as an antithesis of the Congress. It opposes everything the Congress does. The only place where it does have an opinion is on Hindutva. That’s the only thing that differentiates it from other parties.….

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