On the issue of bringing political parties under the RTI Act

State must finance the electoral process and not any political party!

State must finance the electoral process and not any political party!
The privileged status of “recognised” parties must be ended!

Statement of the Central Committee of Communist Ghadar Party of India, 27th August, 2013

The controversy over the applicability of the Right to Information Act to political parties has raised some fundamental questions of principle.  First, are political parties public authorities and should they be accorded the status of public authorities?  Secondly, will a law requiring full disclosure of information about the sources of party funding address the problem of money power influencing electoral outcomes? 

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has pointed to the significant amount of subsidies and privileges enjoyed by the six “recognized national parties” – namely, Congress Party, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, Bahujan Samaj Party and Nationalist Congress Party.  It has argued that “in spite of being non-governmental, the political parties come to directly or indirectly influence the exercise of governmental power. It would be odd to argue that transparency is good for all state organs but not so good for political parties, which, in reality, control all the vital organs of the state”. 

The fact that political parties are permitted to control the state is at the core of the problem with the existing political system.  For the people to become the decision-makers, it is essential to prevent political parties from usurping the right to decide for all. 

The main problem with the view expressed by the CIC is that it accepts and reinforces the role of political parties as the gatekeepers of political power, thereby blocking the path to people’s empowerment.

It has to be recognised that any set of citizens have the right to form a political party of their choice.  Every individual member of society has the right to join or support any political party of his or her choice, or not to join or support any party.  A political party, by definition, represents the interests of a particular group or class of persons.  While it has social responsibilities, it must not be permitted to become a public authority.  No party must be permitted to use the State in its own interest, as was done, for instance, to carry out the genocide of Sikhs in 1984 and of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.   

Another problem with the argument of the CIC is that it applies only to the officially “recognized” parties that receive state funding in numerous forms, including subsidized office space and free TV time on Doordarshan.  The vast majority of political parties in our country do not receive any kind of state support.  This is a major discrimination, an unfair advantage enjoyed by those parties that have a track record of winning elections in the past.  It places all the other parties at a disadvantage.  It has created an uneven playing field between the older entrenched parties and the vast majority of smaller and newer parties.  Instead of addressing this problem, the CIC is proposing to further consolidate this discrimination and privileged status of the so-called recognised parties, by declaring them to be public authorities

Those who are disgusted with the rising degree of corruption and criminality in politics must recognise that public subsidizing of one set of parties is itself a form of political corruption.  We must demand that all such funding be immediately withdrawn. 

The six nationally recognised parties have challenged the CIC verdict by arguing that they are not public authorities.  However, they are all trying to justify the state subsidies and privileges they enjoy.  If they are not public authorities, why should they receive public funding?

There is no justification for spending even one rupee of public money on any political party.  Political parties and all their activities must be funded by their respective members and supporters. 

It must also be recognised that political parties have rights that go with their duties.  While their political aim and program must be publicly known and they must be answerable for their public actions, they have the right to keep internal organizational matters confidential.  To demand that a political party must have no secrets is in violation of the right to privacy.  It is a move in the direction of fascism – that is, to the complete subordination of the rights of individual citizens and their collectives to an all-powerful State.

The problem of money power influencing electoral outcomes cannot be addressed by making the Right to Information Act applicable to political parties.    The United States is an example of a country where the two main political parties of the establishment publicly display information about the sources of their campaign finance.  However, it is also the country where the maximum amount of money gets spent on election campaigns, and where money power is so massive that it prevents anyone other than the candidates of the Republican and Democratic parties from even entering the electoral contest.

As long as society is divided into different classes, it is inevitable that different political parties will be formed to serve these class interests.  It is to be expected that members of a particular class will contribute funds to parties that serve that class interest.  Therefore it is inevitable that some parties will have more money power than other parties, as long as the exploiting classes and all class divisions have not disappeared.  What is immediately required is that the electoral process must be insulated from the inequality of money power.  This can be achieved if and only if (i) people enjoy the right to select candidates before any election, and (ii) the State funds the electoral process and prohibits any party or individual candidate from spending anything on it. 

As long as the electorate has no say in candidate selection, as long as parties can distribute tickets and impose candidates of their choice on the electorate, the majority of people will remain powerless.  Without the people having any say in candidate selection, elections become a contest among a privileged few, backed by the most powerful economic interests. It becomes a contest between different factions of capitalist interests, with the toiling majority of people being reduced to voting cattle.  Furthermore, without the right to recall members who betray their mandate, people have no power over their representatives.

It is the electors who must select candidates on the basis of merit.  Together with those they elect, the people must be able to participate in formulating policies and enacting laws. 

There is need to establish non-partisan elected constituency committees, as part of an all-India Election Commission, to ensure that the process of selection and election is carried out properly.  Such committees should be mandated to make information about every nominated candidate available to all electors in the constituency and enable them to exercise their right to select the candidates for election. 

Political parties as well as non-party organisations, including workers’ unions, kisan sabhas, women’s organisations, youth clubs, national liberation movements, human rights organisations, regional and local samitis must all be permitted to nominate candidates for election.  All nominations should go through a selection process, with the electorate being enabled to express its opinions on any of the nominations.  The final shortlist of candidates must be approved by the electorate in each constituency.  Only then should the final voting take place, among the selected candidates. 

Once candidates are selected by the people in the above manner, the State must ensure equal time and opportunity for all the selected candidates, provide them with equal means to present their views and plans, and take care of the entire expense of the elections.  No political party or individual candidate must be permitted to spend anything on the selection process and the election campaign.  That would be the concrete solution to the problem of money power influencing electoral outcomes. 

While political parties may nominate candidates of their choice, they would have to win the confidence of the constituents, debate the issues along with them, listen to their views, none of which takes place today.  The members of political parties would then be on an equal footing with everyone else who seeks to present herself or himself for election.

In sum, the opinion of Communist Ghadar Party is that the following measures are immediately required for the people to become the decision-makers and not remain marginalized from the political process:

  • There should be no election without selection of candidates by the electorate;
  • Constituency committees to be elected in every electoral constituency, mandated to organise and supervise the process of selection of candidates and the election campaign, as well as the process of recall of elected representatives and initiation of legislation by the electorate; 
  • The state should not finance any political party but it should finance the entire process of selection of candidates and election of the people’s representatives; and no party or individual candidate should be permitted to incur any campaign expenditure.    

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