I am writing this open letter to you, since both of us have worked together in the RTI movement and have insisted on transparency in all public matters. There are some concerns about your working which I want to bring to your attention. Since a precedent has been set by the Maharashtra CM Fadnavis, you may consider responding to a Aam Aadmi.
I am sure you have taken a lot of good steps to better the lives of people in Delhi. I have noticed the fact that among other things you have focused on education, health and some other important sectors. You must have taken many more notable actions. You surely understand that all politicians serve people in some manner. There are some worrying indicators which together make many wary of your future course. I am taking the liberty of listing a few, in the hope that you may consider restoring your party to its pristine promise.
You have been one of the champions of transparency and RTI and your national recognition came because of this. However Delhi government does not appear to have improved on the transparency score nor adherence to RTI. I checked with some RTI activists in Delhi, CIC and even some strong supporters of yours. All of them say that there is no significant improvement in sou moto disclosure under Section 4, or even the responses being given to RTI applications. Your supporters said you will take this up later. A small suggestion in this regard: Consider making the working of your government completely digital in the next one year and put up all files on the internet each day, save what is exempt.
Lokpal is another area which has been of concern to people of the nation. Your all India presence and recognition was based on your work in vociferously insisting on a Lokpal bill being passed by Parliament as per the draft suggested by you without any changes. You resigned as Chief Minister claiming that since you could not pass the Lokpal bill you would not continue. You were given an unprecedented majority in Delhi, but a full nine months later there is no sign of the Lokpal bill being passed. In April 2015 you tweeted“Started working on Jan Lokpal Bill”. Earlier you had given the impression that you knew the ideal draft for it. It appears that your enthusiasm for a Lokpal has waned after your party’s Lokpal was not pliant enough and was dumped unceremoniously.
Many of your senior colleagues have left you, or been expelled. The list includes Prashant Bhushan , Yogendra Yadav, Medha Patkar , Shazia Ilmi, Madhu Bahduri. Some of them like Prashant had worked with you for over a decade. Amongst the five member team which was to present the nation’s voice at the Lokpal bill negotiation team with five ministers, only you remain in solitary splendor. Two out of your four MPs of Punjab have been thrown out, and Mr. Phoolka has resigned from all party posts. . Your implied argument appears to be that they were not serving the interests of the nation. You appear to believe that ‘Arvind is Aap, and Aap is India’. All these people have a long record of public service and integrity. You were a great champion of the right to dissent and transparency. It appears that you ensured the exit of those who dissented, or questioned the ethical and moral dimensions of some of your actions. At the very least be transparent about your meetings and the reasons for your decisions.
You represented the hope which looked forward to the ideal of India becoming a more honest, ethical nation. The hope that Indian politics would be based on principles, and true democracy with accountability will prevail; dissent and transparency would be our paths for a true participatory democracy. I did visit and speak at your rallies at Jantar Mantar and Ram Lila ground while I was an Information Commissioner and saw in those large numbers of persons the hope and dream of a resurgent India which would result in a nation they would be proud of. It was magical, like a pumpkin transforming into a royal carriage. The widespread support you got from media and people was because of this. It appears now that the clock may strike 12 and the magic may disappear. This has happened before in 1977 and the hopes and faith of the people were betrayed. You have now castigated anyone who does not agree with you, including the media. Media backed and made you a national figure when you appeared to represent the dream of a better India. With the path you are now following, you may build a large successful party, and reach the highest level. But you will be like any other politician and political party. The descent from idealism can be very rapid. Please do not dash the hopes for idealism and a honest India. It may take decades before someone else will be able to persuade citizens that a political party will work with principles and idealism with the nation as its primary concern. True democracy is built with ethics and systems, not by great leaders.
Shailesh Gandhi is a former Central Information Commissioner.