There are some issues and problems and situations that are classified as State Secrets, or secrets of the state, which means the general unwashed public will have no access to information regarding the above. Now, with the Modi government unceremoniously burying the RTI Act, we shall never be in the know. Most citizens would dearly love to know the following:
Urban Maoists: Who are they and how has this government come up with this classification? Last week in parliament, Home Minister Amit Shah introduced changes to a counter-terrorism law which, he claimed, will help secure India from individuals who pose a threat to its security and sovereignty, including “urban Maoists”. A reality check reveals the phrase is used to target critics of the government, sympathisers of left-wing extremists, and includes intellectuals, rationalists, historians, authors, members of NGOs, JNU students, journalists and even senior advocates! Opposition parties have protested against the use of such vague categorisation by ministers, calling it pejorative, but is anybody listening? Sorry, minus an effective RTI Act, nobody needs to.
The PM’s promises to World Leaders: In Pakistan, it’s been hailed as the country’s biggest diplomatic coup since the Kissinger-Nixon tilt towards Islamabad during the 1971 war. The coup in question was US President Donald Trump’s assertion that his “good friend” Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate on Kashmir. Despite the predictable and justifiable furore in India, the good friend has maintained a heavily pregnant silence. An RTI question may have revealed his reasons, but following last week’s amendments, that is out of the question.
The Going Rate for Defections: At the rate that defections to the BJP are taking place, the big question is, what the going rate is? Forget the fact that at the rate of defections, from Karnataka to Goa, the entire country may well turn saffron, making the anti-defection law and opposition parties, defunct. It also means that for most legislators, ideology could well mean idli-sambar. In Karnataka, the collapsed Congress-JDS coalition had pegged the going rate at between Rs 30 to 40 crore but whether the hire-purchase scheme has permeated Indian polity could have been uncovered by an RTI query. Alas, that too has fallen by the wayside.
Lessons from Kargil: As the nation celebrates the 20th anniversary of the epochal military episode and salutes India’s brave soldiers and airmen, the uncomfortable question of whether we have learnt any lessons from that bloody engagement raises its head. Soldiers still complain of faulty rifles and inadequate high altitude gear. They have recently been equipped with snow boots which are made in Agra, exported to a foreign firm, and imported back to India! An RTI query may have helped unravel the mystery, but…….
MS Dhoni’s Retirement Plans: As state secrets go, this one seems to be top of the list, stamped “Highly Confidential” and “Top Secret”. Even as sports journalists, columnists and op-ed writers enter into DRS-type debates on will he, won’t he, should he?, the former captain removes himself from one field of fire and prepares to enter another, to conduct patrolling duties in Kashmir as part of the Territorial army. The stump mike, a.k.a. the RTI Act, may have revealed more about his future plans, but for now, that is being declared a dead ball.
Modi’s Waistcoats: Forget Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, which literally pales in comparison to the dazzling collection of waistcoats that cover the PM’s 64-inch chest. He seems to have one for every occasion, in every possible shade and colour, from Herringbone and Houndstooth to Ikat and Imperial Blue, and everything in between. How many does he have? How many cabinets are required to store them all? Is that what is meant by Cabinet Meeting? And the Big Question, who pays to keep the PM in designer gear 24/7? Under the RTI Act, which Modi once praised as opposition leader, much could have been uncovered but amendments now forbid.
Smriti Irani’s Educational Qualifications: It has become as monumental a question as the one to do with whether aliens exist. In a 2004 affidavit, while filing her nomination for elections in Delhi, she had claimed that she did her BA in 1996 from Delhi University. That was later amended, like the RTI Act, to disclose that it was by correspondence course. Later, filing her nomination for the Amethi Lok Sabha seat this year, the union minister declared her highest educational qualification to be “Part 1 of Bachelor of Commerce from Delhi University in 1994”. How is it that she has shed her degree while journalist and opposition leaders have shed many tears trying to get at the facts? She has maintained a questionable silence which could have ended with a question under the RTI Act, now robbed of qualification.
Whither Rahul Gandhi: Good question since he has a habit of disappearing from the scene at eventful moments, like now when he is reportedly in America while the opposition lacks the numbers to prevent the BJP from ramming through legislations, like the RTI Act!