The Communist Party of India (Marxist) cannot accept the order of the Central Information Commission that political parties are to be treated as “public authorities” and brought under the purview of the Right to Information Act. This decision is based on a fundamental misconception about the role of political parties in a parliamentary democracy.
The CIC order states that “six national parties are substantially financed by the Central Government and therefore they are held to be public authorities under the Act”. This is untrue because the bulk of the funding and finances for the parties do not come from the government or any State institution. In fact, the CPI(M) does not even accept funds from the corporates which is legally permissible.
One of the concerns of the CIC seems to be transparency of the funding and finances of political parties. At present according to the law all political parties are required to submit their accounts to the Income Tax department and the Election Commission. Already under the RTI, the statement of accounts and the finances of the parties are accessible to anyone from the Election Commission. Any more details of the financing of the Party can be sought for and has to be given. The CPI(M) has from the outset taken the stand that the financial statements and accounts of a party should be publicly available.
But this does not mean that a political party has to be treated as a public authority. This will interfere with and hamper the functioning of a political party. A political party is a voluntary association of citizens who believe in the ideology, programme and leadership of the party. That party is accountable to its membership. To apply the Right to Information Act and demand access to the internal deliberations of the party whether it be on policy matters, organisational decisions or selection of candidates will constitute a serious infringement of the inner-party functioning, confidentiality of discussions and undermine the political party system itself. Opponents of a political party can utilise the RTI as an instrument to destabilise a party.
Given the serious implications of this order of the CIC for the political party system and parliamentary democracy, the matter should be discussed by the Government with all political parties so that suitable steps can be taken to preserve the integrity and the role of political parties in a democratic political system.