Bring Corporates Under Right to Information: Gopal Krishna Gandhi

October 14, 2015

Lecture given by Gopal Krishna Gandhi at event to mark the tenth anniversary of the Right to Information Act. The event was organized by National Campaign for People's Right to Information and the Foundation for Media Professionals. The venue was Lady Irwin College, Delhi. 

 
 

From the French Revolution, we got liberty, equality, and fraternity. But the concept of social justice existed even before all that. Surdas has a couplet: charan Kamal bandho Hari raee.

He says: I bow again and again at the feet of that merciful God whose mercy enables the lame to ascend mountains, the blind to see everything, the deaf to hear, the dumb to speak and the pauper to have people holding an umbrella over him.

Those who cannot see, those who can’t hear, men who cannot speak – they must all be treated equally. That is exactly what RTI (Right to Information) tries to do – give a voice to the helpless.

 There is only one generalization about India – that it cannot be generalized.

 During the independence struggle, the Indian flag was in people's hands. When those same flags began fluttering on politicians’ cars – cars that that took those politicians far away – people began to wonder who would listen to their problems.

 Back in the day, Jayaprakash Narayan tried to keep the fervour of the freedom movement alive, with the Sarvodaya (a Gandhian programme of community development through self-supporting villages) and Bhoodan (voluntary distribution of land to the landless) movements. Working alongside Ram Manohar Lohia, he soon realized however, that even these movements were not enough. The scent of corruption was already in the air. Lohia once jokingly asked Jayaprakash, ‘What do you know about going to jail after independence? Only I have done that!” Eventually, both got a taste of imprisonment in independent India.

 In 1975, in his grand old age, Jayaprakash revived the vibrant people's movement that had fizzled out after the forties. He asked a lot of questions, which made some uncomfortable. In the later years, things came to such a pass that even question hour in parliament began to be misused.

 Much later, another revolution started ? a struggle for the Lokpal. But that too, fizzled out miserably. So RTI is yet another movement in a long series of people’s movement’s that have come before it. If the original vision behind it is preserved, it will not fizzle out like some of the others did.

 When a movement becomes a mere monument, it loses its essence, it dies out. But instead, if it grows into a huge, spread-out tree, it remains alive and kicking.

 There was only one aim for the RTI movement. That aim was the free movement of information. We should not stop at just shouting slogans. People who control information have to be made accountable. They are used to hiding behind myriad laws, behind the Official Secrets Act and other instruments.

 There is another aspect to be considered. When people who were revolutionaries were entrusted with the official duty of running the machinery of RTI – they could not handle it. They shouldered the drudgery of paper work with heavy hearts. Not a very efficient way of doing things.

 ‘Be the change you want to see’ - is a famous slogan attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. Well, it wasn’t his slogan. It was only his thought, his way of life. The slogan itself may have been coined by some junior copywriter somewhere. ‘Western Civilization? It is a good idea’ another famous quote ascribed to him.

Now check this one out. ‘Those who seek justice – must come with clean hands.’ That, is an original, word for word quote by Mahatma Gandhi. He actually said those words.

 Do not drag RTI into political battles; use it to settle scores with rivals. Do not drag into the drudgery of exposing leaves, promotions and other such mundane details. Do not use it to drag anyone down into poverty and trouble. But never hesitate to ask the government. If you have a chair for a RTI commissioner – why have you kept the chair empty for so many years?

 The RTI movement should ask questions not just of the government. But also of the RTI institution itself.

 Money – it’s a common factor for politicians, governments and institutions. Corruption is not the sole preserve of politicians alone. Our country sees corruption in every field. Even in sports. Even in a gentleman’s game like cricket – under the aegis of the BCCI. Corporate institutions should be brought under the ambit of RTI.

Till the time parties accept money from companies during the elections, corruption will not be stamped out. In 1965, corporate donations were banned by Indira. They came back in 1985. The Statement of Objects and Reasons that brought back donations said – In order to allow corporate India to play a legitimate role in the growth of India. That's how donations were made legit again.

Equality is not just a word in the constitution. It doesn’t merely mean  one man, one vote. One must be able to say what one thinks without fear. Thought must be independent. And independent thought is being threatened today.

Jayaprakash Narayan was arrested and imprisoned for speaking his mind. Today, instead of imprisonment, fear is being created. So no one dares to speak or think at all. Today's battles are fought with money and fear.

Narendra Dabholkar,Govind  Pansare and MM Kalburgi were murdered. These were attempts to stifle free thought. Nayantara Sahgal gave up her award in protest.  Other writers followed suit.

Now consider this: forty five people have been murdered while pursuing and filing cases related to RTI. When churches are attacked (in Delhi, after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, and before Arvind Kejriwal became chief minister for the second time), the government says it is just petty theft. When Dadri (where Mohammed Akhlaq was killed by his neighbours at night on the false pretext that he had eaten beef) happens, they say it is just personal enmity. Were these 45 RTI activists all killed for merely theft or enmity? Or was there something more?