The veil of silence – do we have a right to demand that it break?

…in India, silence has always been the handiest tool of the powerful. I seem to remember being taught in my school civics course that, among other things, democracy vests people with the power to ask questions and demand answers. Yet our politicians routinely confront us with a wall of silence…

This is Sandipan Deb, writing in livemint, and refers to Dhoni, Rahul G and Sonia G in his article

The core question is – is it foolhardy to expect responses to our questions? Are we expected to consign ourselves to only voting politicians in and out; following our cricketers on TV and admiring/envying the Antilla? The very foundation of the Right to Information is that public information should be freely available to the citizens. This should include anything that runs in public interest and is funded by public money. By this definition, most spheres of activity in our country would come under the purview of the RTI. But there has been strong resistance, expectedly so, from many quarters – the BCCI, for instance.

The spirit of the right to information is also pro-active disclosures by public agencies and those in public life; it is also that those in public life will uphold the values of transparency and accountability by allowing information to flow. Of course they will not all do this without being prompted, pushed, forced, or penalised. And that is precisely why we have a right to demand that the veil of silence be broken. Sushil Kumar Shinde had to explain why he did not come back from the US in spite of the Chattisgarh naxal attacks, as bizarre as his explanation may be; Dravid had to speak when his team-mates were booked for spot-fixing, etc etc. This is why we expect Rahul G to have something to say when the Delhi gang rapes took place and citizen protests rocked the capital.

We also have a right to demand that relevant people and agencies take accountability for their actions and the actions of their colleagues or associates. This is why Pawan Kumar Bansal had to resign when his nephew was caught taking bribes; this why we N Srinivasan should resign; this why Sharad Pawar should not be speaking about ‘conflict of interest’ in the BCCI; etc etc. Once again, do not be naive and expect anyone to take responsibility – but we should not let that stop us from demanding it.


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