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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

“Oho! So it’s CCIC Shekhar Singh now, is it?!” Some angry thoughts

I have been tossing in my bed, trying to calm down my disturbed mind and go to sleep. But sleep is eluding me, and the angry thoughts refuse to subside; and so, here I am at 2 a.m., trying to articulate what exactly is bothering me. A few hours ago, a fellow activist phoned and told me the news about NCPRI’s Shekhar Singh possibly being our next Chief Central Information Commissioner. And then I came home and read this news item last night, which left me with a strange taste in my mouth:

What am I feeling just now? It is not joy that a worthy fellow-activist is about to be made, not just a CIC, but Chief CIC. But why? Shouldn’t I be feeling happy that power may pass from former bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah into the hands of a leading campaigner for transparency?

Am I jealous? I sincerely wonder, because I am not above petty emotions. But I don’t think so. I really don’t think that is my emotion currently.

A gut-feeling is nagging me and keeping me wide-awake tonight – a worry that we civil-society members are being cleverly manipulated. Neta aur babu log hum logon ko phir se chootiya bana rahey hain. And if we go into a congratulatory or celebratory mode tomorrow, we shall have fallen into their trap.

I suspect that this is a deliberate news-leak. It is a strategic move. Someone at DoPT or PMO deliberately “leaked” the news to a friendly journalist. Why? Possibly they are testing the waters before convening a meeting of the Prime Minister’s selection committee for CIC. The committee may select Shekhar Singh…

Or maybe select somebody else – a bureaucrat again! Do you remember that in May ’09, activist Manish Sisodia was one of the three candidates being considered for the CIC’s post? Despite the fishy timing of the CIC selection on the eve of the elections, activists’ voice of opposition was muted because some of us hoped that Manish would become CIC. Some of us didn’t want his chances to be damaged by our opposition. And then what happened? They made Omita Paul the CIC. They gave a thenga to all of us!

They may be playing the same game again by leaking the name of Shekhar – blunting our opposition to the entire non-transparent and arbitrary process of selecting a CCIC. (Their real candidate may be someone else – a bureaucrat again.)

Currently, we all are united in our opposition to RTI Act amendment, and this movement is gathering momentum. We are also united against non-transparent appointment of CICs. My reading of the situation is -- and many fellow-activists agree -- that by acting together for the same cause, we all have put the government on the backfoot.

Now I think the political bosses are trying to throw us off-balance by naming Shekhar. They are hoping that many of us will hail Shekhar in the media, and send telegrams and letters to DoPT and PMO in his favour. In the meanwhile, some of us may oppose his candidature, and propose other activists for the post. In the resultant quarreling and groupism, the call for transparent CIC appointment and our united opposition to amendments will die down. They hope that NCPRI will go soft on its campaign against amendment, at least until Shekhar’s appointment is confirmed. And if it is confirmed, then maybe NCPRI will drop the campaign altogether. THAT would make our netas & babus very happy indeed!

Fellow-activists, please don’t fall for their divide-and-rule tactics. Otherwise, precious opportunities will slip away from our hands – opportunities for protecting the teeth of the RTI Act and enhancing the power of ordinary citizens.

Please don’t lose focus of the main issues: (i) we want them to implement and not amend the RTI Act, and (ii) we want them to appoint all Information Commissioners henceforth by a transparent, accountable, reliable process. Our campaigns must continue and grow in strength.

Please don’t let them treat politicians and bureaucrats treat us like pet dogs; they are constantly feasting on power, and when they occasionally throw in our direction a scrap like a CIC’s post, we all start fighting!

My earnest plea to Shekhar Singh is: Accept nothing less than total transparency in selection. Please don’t let the bureaucrats co-opt you by becoming a beneficiary of their arbitrary selection racket. If the post of CCIC is being offered to you without a transparent selection process, please snub them by asking them to first establish a proper process. Please take this golden opportunity to reform this system.



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