All parties must be treated equally

There are loud cries from India's anticorruption activists that political parties must come under RTI (right to information). This is, of course, a reasonable thing to ask, but there is an important detail that people seem to be forgetting.

There is a fundamental problem with bringing all political parties under RTI at one shot. And that is: existing parties such as Congress and BJP have grown to their current size and prominence without it! Not a little illegal money has brought them to where they stand today, as any voter will acknowledge, and as any party person will also acknowledge in private.

Now that these parties have grown fat, if it becomes mandatory for all political parties to come under RTI simultaneously, it will become nearly impossible for new and budding parties to have a fair chance in the overall game. Of course, even the big parties will get into trouble because they have to be transparent, but the new and budding parties will have greater trouble to even try and exist.

I am not trying to justify corruption but the right of all political parties—old and new, born and unborn—to be equally corrupt. What I'm trying to justify is the right of Indians to form new political parties with new ideologies and still have the opportunity to play a fair game, i.e., to be treated equally. The validity of an ideology has nothing to do with how much corruption is necessary to get it to win an election: such is the unfortunate state of affairs of the Indian polity.

If RTI is slapped on every political party at one shot, the small fish are going to be the real victims, not the big fish, and there is no proof that the ideologies of the small fish are any less valid than those of the big ones. Nor is it true that the existing political parties have exhausted all the possible ideologies that Indians can author.

What is the way out? Should we do away with the idea of bringing political parties under RTI? No, because that would not be the way of minimizing corruption. The correct way, I think, is to give all parties immunity from RTI for the same number of years as the oldest party, i.e., the Congress. This party has existed for about 128 years, and it has not come under the ambit of RTI till now. So, if a law to bring political parties under RTI comes into effect from today, the Congress must first come under it, followed by the next oldest party, and so on and so forth. All parties, including the new and unborn parties, must enjoy a full 128-year immunity from RTI. That is, if the electoral system in India has to be fair.

Slapping RTI on political parties is a wonderful idea, no doubt, but it has to be done in a phased manner without undermining democracy. To try and remove corruption from all the political parties at one shot, unfortunately, is undemocratic. Sorry.

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