India Insight

When the Right To Information becomes a fight for information in India

The Congress party-led government that drafted the Right To Information (RTI) Act in 2005 touted the law as one of its success stories for the average Indian in the last election. Whether it played any role in the election’s outcome is difficult to say, but activists who specialize in RTI requests throughout India say that government workers have found many ways to frustrate their attempts to get responses to their questions.

Filing an RTI is easier than it used to be, but extracting information is getting harder each year, said Neeraj Goenka, an RTI activist in Sitamarhi, a town in the state of Bihar.

“Bihar government brought a number of amendments to the RTI act to discourage people from asking questions. Bureaucracy is totally dominant here also like in any other state,” he said. “From top to bottom, everyone knows how the information can either be denied or delayed, and the application keeps moving from one authority to the other for months.”

An RTI works like this: a citizen files a request for information to a state office, and the office is required by federal law to respond in 30 days. The trouble is, a lax attitude toward enforcing the turnaround time coupled with an overburdened bureaucracy can lead to slower or absent responses.

A report this week said 66,000 RTI complaints and appeals are pending.

Goenka said that he filed a request in 2012 to find out what kind of penalties bureaucrats received for various mistakes on the job, and has received no information. “I filed a first appeal also, but in vain. If this is the situation with the information commission itself, which is supposed to be the guardian of RTI, you can easily imagine the rest of the scenario,” he said.

Aam Aadmi’s party isn’t over yet, Bhagwant Mann says

The one-and-a-half-year-old Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) poor performance in this year’s parliamentary elections in India was a big letdown for the anti-corruption party’s members and its leader Arvind Kejriwal. One of the party’s newly elected parliamentarians, Punjabi actor-comedian Bhagwant Mann, is doing his best to keep spirits high. Following are excerpts from two phone conversations with India Insight about the future of the AAP.

 (This interview was conducted in Hindi and translated into English)

Q. Why didn’t the “Modi wave” work in Punjab?

A. There was nothing like a Modi wave in Punjab. Punjab is already affected a lot by drugs and unemployment. So Punjab’s problems are not about [BJP slogan] “Ache din aane waley hain” (“Good days are coming”) or “Har Har Modi” (Hindu religious chant, modified for Modi). Punjab wanted a third alternative, it wanted to get out of the two-party mill – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Congress.

Q. What is your reaction to the party’s performance in Punjab and the rest of the country?

No anti-Muslim ideology in party – BJP’s Anurag Thakur

Many people see Anurag Thakur, 39, as the youthful face of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition to the Congress party-led government and the party of prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi. He is the son of the former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, and was named one of the World Economic Forum’s global young leaders this year.

In an interview with Reuters, Thakur spoke about Modi’s popularity as well as criticisms levelled against him. He also spoke about internal problems at the BJP, the party’s perceptions among Muslims, Congress PM contender Rahul Gandhi and more.

Here are excerpts from an interview:

Q: The BJP has attacked Congress over many issues – price rise and corruption being the biggest. Do you think these problems will be solved if Narendra Modi comes to power?
A: Today, when the country wants someone who has experience, and can deliver, 65 percent people of the country want Modi as the PM. During NDA regime, there was hardly any price rise. There were no charges of corruption against Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his government colleagues.

Not funny – jokes Indian politicians crack

(Any opinions expressed here are not those of Thomson Reuters)

Politicians facing outrage over their comments often say that they didn’t mean what they said to come out that way. Lately in India, they say they were joking.

One of the latest was Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, whose self-confessed attempt at a joke earned him the ire of the Election Commission of India just before the beginning of this year’s elections that could boot the Congress out of power. Addressing a community of labourers in Maharashtra last week, the chief of the Nationalist Congress Party urged listeners to vote twice for his party – and told them how to do it.

“This time, Election in Satara is on 17 and as per my information election here is on 24. So cast your vote on ‘clock’ (party symbol) there and cast your vote on ‘clock’ here. Wipe the ink,” he said, referring to the indelible ink to mark the fingers of people who have voted, noting that people should be able to remove it.

Key dates in India’s election history

Voting for the 2014 general election will begin on April 7, the Election Commission said on Wednesday.

(For facts and figures on the 2014 election, click here)

Here is a timeline of key dates in India’s election history:

1947 – Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the founding fathers of independent India, becomes the country’s first prime minister. His appointment starts a long period of political dominance of the Congress party and the country’s most powerful dynasty, the Gandhi-Nehru family.

1952 – Nehru leads Congress to a clear victory in the country’s first ever general election and retains the prime ministership, which he held until his death in 1964.

Ashutosh gears up for Chandni Chowk race; talks about ‘biased’ media

(Any opinions expressed here are not those of Thomson Reuters)

Aam Aadmi Party’s Ashutosh might have been a TV news host, but now he talks like an experienced politician. “I am enjoying” being on the other side of the microphone, the former managing editor of Hindi news channel IBN7 told India Insight during an interview in which he discussed his decision to stand for Parliament.

It probably won’t be easy. He is taking on Kapil Sibal, a Congress party veteran and influential government minister. Sibal, a two-time member of the Lok Sabha from central Delhi’s Chandni Chowk constituency, has a knack for landing in controversies. From trying to police social media to trashing a popular upsurge against corrupt politicians in 2011, he often has become a target of public wrath.

Ashutosh, who goes by a single name, said the media is being manipulated by political parties and corporations to make sure that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wins the prime minister’s race in May. Regarding his own former media company Network18, which accepted a large investment from Reliance Industries in 2012 in a complex deal, he had little to say. Nevertheless, he shared his thoughts on how he sees the media now that he is on the other side of the camera. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

“Levels of corruption have gone down drastically in Delhi” – The Arvind Kejriwal interview, part 3

(This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

By Frank Jack Daniel and Sruthi Gottipati

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s new chief minister, stormed to power in the national capital in December on an anti-corruption platform.

His Aam Aadmi Party, or “Common Man’s Party”, uses a broom as its symbol to suggest it is sweeping the dirt out of politics. Kejriwal, a bespectacled former tax collector, spoke to Reuters in a wide-ranging interview a month after getting the top job, from the same modest apartment he’s lived in for the past 15 years. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the third and final part of the interview.

(“Allow us to make mistakes, allow us to learn” – The Arvind Kejriwal interview, part 1)

“People need to be allowed to do business” – The Arvind Kejriwal interview, part 2

(This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

By Frank Jack Daniel and Sruthi Gottipati

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s new chief minister, stormed to power in the national capital in December on an anti-corruption platform.

His Aam Aadmi Party, or “Common Man’s Party”, uses a broom as its symbol to suggest it is sweeping the dirt out of politics. Kejriwal, a bespectacled former tax collector, spoke to Reuters in a wide-ranging interview a month after getting the top job, from the same modest apartment he’s lived in for the past 15 years. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the second part of the interview. Reuters will publish the third and final part on Sunday.

(“Allow us to make mistakes, allow us to learn” – The Arvind Kejriwal interview, part 1)

“Allow us to make mistakes, allow us to learn” — The Arvind Kejriwal interview, part 1

(This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

By Frank Jack Daniel and Sruthi Gottipati

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s new chief minister, stormed to power in the national capital in December on an anti-corruption platform.

His Aam Aadmi Party, or “Common Man’s Party”, uses a broom as its symbol to suggest it is sweeping the dirt out of politics. Kejriwal, a bespectacled former tax collector, spoke to Reuters in a wide-ranging interview a month after getting the top job, from the same modest apartment he’s lived in for the past 15 years. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the first part of the interview. Reuters will publish parts two and three over the next few days.

On Monday night — surrounded by idols of the deity Ganesh (known in Hinduism as the remover of obstacles), books on Mahatma Gandhi and the translated Quran, activism awards, plastic flowers, and of course  a broom — Kejriwal sipped a glass of warm water for his bronchitis as he spoke.

Interview: AAP’s Yogendra Yadav defends Delhi protests, blames media

By Aditya Kalra and Sankalp Phartiyal

Senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) member Yogendra Yadav on Wednesday defended his party’s protest against the police on the streets of New Delhi and blamed the media for “unsympathetic” coverage.

Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the AAP, or “common man’s party”, ended his planned 10-day dharna” after two days on Tuesday.

The protests were unusual considering state chief ministers do not use street protests to achieve their ends. Last week, the party accused two police officers of negligence, one of whom was in charge in the tourist area where a Danish woman was reportedly gang-raped.

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