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Friday, August 6, 2010

Clean Information Commissioners’ Selection worth dying for

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream - I have a dream

Lyrics of ABBA song ‘I have a dream’

Dear friends,

What you are about to read is a lengthily-reasoned and deeply personal piece. It is a piece that will definitely expose me to raised eyebrows and ridicule. Nonetheless, I am deeply convinced that carrying out the actions that I am about to detail here have the potential to change the ordinary course of events, and take us into a better future. Please believe me, they are not about a bright idea that I got last night, or even a couple of days back; this is a course of action that I have examined in my head over and over in the past few months. Before God and man, I humbly submit that I am not yielding to an urge to dominate or outshine my peers and colleagues through extreme behavior. So, bear with me; I ask from you only a few moments of willing suspension of disbelief.

The ABBA song above, particularly the lines, “If you see the wonder of a fairytale, you can take the future even if you fail,” reflects the way I feel. By restricting our thoughts to a fear-based ‘realistic’ projections of how things WILL PROBABLY play out, instead of a prayer-based ‘optimistic’ projection of how things CAN POSSIBLY play out, we do ourselves a grave injustice, because we fail to envision a future that is very different from our present. By failing to envision a future that is daringly different, we fail to do the very things that are necessary for creating that future. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings." Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141).
The greatest battles were undertaken in the face of hopelessly great odds. For instance, in 1919, 28 years before Independence, the British Empire was at its greatest extent ever, and it was said, “The sun never sets on the British Empire”. So it must have seemed like an impossibly foolish thing to imagine that we could ever gain our national freedom. And yet, in the face of such odds and much ridicule from their countrymen, our nation’s founding fathers did many improbable things. The results are there for us to see.

I believe that the greatest battles are yet to be fought. The most inspiring tales of our times are yet to be told. And it is entirely up to us to fight these brilliant battles and write these incredible tales.

A great opportunity presents itself currently as a great challenge with almost insurmountable odds: Can we stop the Union Government from arbitrarily selecting the next batch of Information Commissioners? Can we compel the Union Government to frame the necessary rules for selection of Central Information Commissioners, and thereby, set a clear example for States to follow? Most people reckon, quite realistically, that it is impossible as these appointments are set to happen in two months.

October 2010 will be a milestone that we will either rejoice or look back with regret. If we – civil society -- allow the Union government to select the next crop of CICs in their business-as-usual way, it will send signals to all the states to do the same for SICs, and then the flood will be unstoppable for the next five years. That must not happen. That must NEVER be allowed happen.

And therefore, it stands to reason that it is crucial for to go beyond our usual intellectual, realistic approach.

Look back. Prior to June 2009, there were several RTI applications to PMO and DOPT on the subject of the CIC selection process. In July 2009, detailed letters to all the members of Parliament and leaders of opposition, and phonograms were sent in good numbers. Starting 23 October 2009, the legitimate and well-reasoned demands of civil society were hammered repeatedly to Government of India through scores of Phonograms, pleas, petitions and legal notices to DoPT, PMO and UPA chief Sonia Gandhi. In November ’09, we put up this issue as a PIL before Delhi High Court. On 12 February 2010, a delegation of eight activists from around the country went and met with DoPT’s officials and made a detailed representation about the urgency of having a due process for selection of Information Commissioners. Press reports have appeared all over the country.

Most recently, on 4 August 2010, a national-level consultation was held at IIPA Delhi, where, along with RTI’s leading lights Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Arvind Kejriwal, a couple of dozen activists from around the country, besides half a dozen government officials, were present. After a day of rigorous debate, the vote was in favour of what we were insisting on all along: (i) Advertize widely to attract applications and nominations (ii) Declare clear selection criteria, guided by what is provided in Section 12(5) and the intent and spirit of the Act voiced in its preamble, and finally (iii) prepare a shortlist transparently, according to these criteria, which should then be presented to the Selection Committee mentioned in Section 12(3).

The point being made is: What we have been asking for all along is an extremely reasonable demand, which any decent government should be willing to concede.

But, over the past 12-13 months, the Union government has maintained a sphinx-like silence. As a result, appointments of State Information Commissioners have continued happening in the usual opaque and arbitrary manner, without any due processes. And now, a fresh lot of Central Information Commissioners, including Chief CIC, will be selected in October 2010. So far, we have every reason to believe that the government will do what it has been doing all along – arbitrarily select a bunch of bureaucratic cronies.

And therefore, the time has come to go way beyond our comfort zone, and exert our entire mortal force to break the government’s silence on this key issue. You heard that right: mortal force, nor just moral force.

THE OATH

Unless the Union Government advertises to attract advertisements for the post of Central Information Commissioners and Chief CICs with suitable eligibility criteria, I shall commence a fast-unto-death on October 2, or on the very day that a date for PM’s Selection Committee meeting is announced (whichever is sooner). This fast will then be broken only after a newspaper advertisement calling for applicatons, nothing less. No compromises, no talks, no in-between solutions, no face-saving formulae.

THE LIFE-AND-DEATH REASON FOR THIS

Lack of support from the enforcers of RTI – the Information Commissioners -- is causing large numbers of RTI activists across the country to live in constant danger of being attacked and murdered. Their prolonged struggle renders them both conspicuous and helpless, endangering their lives. So, proper selection of enforcers is actually a life-and-death matter, not to be taken lightly.

THE METHODOLOGY

The internet makes it simple for any individual to convincingly engage in a hunger-strike from the comfort his or her home, or alternatively, travel all over India. All one needs to do is 24-HOURLY UPLOADS OF THE BELOW:

a) Fresh photos and videos of bare-bodied torso, front and side view: A male protester can get someone to photograph and/or take a video of him every 24 hours in shorts, bare-bodied, front and side-profile, standing or walking. It would be interesting for the public to watch the cheeks, double-chins, midriff and shoulders vanish in the first few days. After a week or so, as the cheekbones, eye-sockets and ribs start showing, and the protester becomes slowly unable to walk without help, the before-and-after contrast becomes very clear.

b) Bathroom-scale, measuring-tape and blood-pressure: Daily giving the latest statistics -- the exact numbers of kilos and inches melting away, and the falling blood-pressure, would be very interesting, and plenty of fodder for media discussion and updates.

c) Regular blood-checkup reports: Fasting blood-sugar levels, falling hemoglobin levels etc. help to make a persuasive point about the suffering and the seriousness of intent.

d) Daily travels and meeting people: The person on fast should ideally travel about as much as humanly possible, meeting and convincing people and media about the importance of this issue. Networked as we are, nationwide meetings are possible at short notice, as long as he is strong enough for economy-class air-travel and road travel. Travelling nationwide would help to make the seriousness of the issue felt by even indifferent people, while generating fresh video footage and media sound-bites.

e) Sympathy-fasts and protests: By travelling around, the protester may succeed in motivating others across the country to fast for a day or two in solidarity, or to organize relay-fasts. Possibly, some late starters will even join him in a fast-unto death, giving a local focus to this protest in different parts of the country. Such things have a way of happening spontaneously when we take issues to a certain emotional level.

f) Nationwide protests: People may not all be angered by undue selection of Central Information Commissioners. However, State Information Commissions are a different story; the tempers of appellants are flaring in many states, thanks to unfair rules, illogical orders, long pendencies, non-enforcement of orders etc. So widespread protests may start happening on many other RTI issues of RTI implementation, leave alone selection of SICs… all of which becomes news and events for upload.

g) Chain-reactions: The protesters themselves may not have an anti-government mindset. However, once things go beyond a certain point of no-return, things don’t stay neatly categorized. Agitations have a way of lending fuel and support to other issues as well. The overall increase in temperature brings to life pressure-groups that may have lain dormant for years. Corruption-related issues mix well with RTI-related issues in a heated environment.

h) More the merrier: There are quite a few people in our country who have the seriousness and stamina to take to fasting. Once the seeds of this idea have taken root in the public psyche, I am hopeful that a few RTI activists will undertake indefinite fasts of their own – whether inspired by me or otherwise. This will yield more material for the 24-hourly upload.

i) Medical intervention & force-feeding: Maybe after 20-30 days, a healthy protestor would enter into a state of medical emergency. (And maybe not; remember, every year, hundreds from the Jain community successfully fast for over a month without any medical intervention.) It is possible that the protester will be fed intravenously or through nose-tubes, against his own wishes. Still, how many days, weeks or months is it possible for such tactics to be employed against a person who is totally unwilling to start eating on his own? So, whether he dies or not, he will continue to be a messy public spectacle, waiting to stage a comeback after the force-feeding. However, pictures of all of this are very good as media-feed, and will keep the issue in the public eye.



THE INVITATION

I am hereby inviting you all to take a considered decision to join me in this fast. However, if you are not so willing, I am asking you to back me with moral, practical and logistical support. Photographing, uploading, updating, planning meetings and websites, organizing transport, media briefings – lots of important stuff like that need to be done. Can you help?

Of course I am expecting this idea to be met with skepticism and derisive smiles, besides various intellectual efforts at dissuasion. That, and then there will be opposition from my family.

But I have to prove by personal example that not only can all this be done, but that it can be a crystallizing point for media and public support for our cause.

Warm Regards,

Krish

98215 88114



Postscripts:

A. For those of my friends who feel that I have taken leave of my senses, I have this to say: By common standards, I really am a nutcase. Beneath my intellectual veneer, I am literally a man possessed. God is to me not an abstraction, but a real person riding pillion in my life, a buddy pointing the way at all times. I look to God for signs and suchlike. Outcomes are always subject to my buddy’s complex and self-contradictory personality, compassion and sometimes morbid sense of humour. But my buddy is all I really have, and my only failure is failure to do as he guides. My buddy likes to see the dice roll, and therefore, I shall roll the dice.

B. For those of my friends who disbelieve me: Hey, who knows, you may know me better than I know myself! Events as they unfold may very easily prove you right and prove me wrong. Won’t be the first time that has happened, and so, a healthy dose of disbelief is in order. Thanks for helping me stay balanced.

C. And for those of my friends who believe me: Thanks for the support, guys… but hey, relax, no need to get all serious! Don’t forget to laugh. Because, all said and done, this is just me being myself and having fun.

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I Have A Dream (ABBA) - from "The Late, Late Breakfast Show" - STEREO
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2YOGfBFAbs&feature=player_embedded