Millennium Post

We need to talk about the letters

Confidentiality of state secrets is made out to be a necessary evil by the proponents of the idea, generally comprising the statists and those with vested interests in keeping matters buried under the thick carpets of bureaucratic and governmental apathy. Generally, collective amnesia becomes reason enough to allow those secrets to stay put in the coffins of neglect, but at times, enough political momentum gathers around an issue to necessitate an excavation of truth. Such is the case with the RTI application that seeks to unearth what went behind the scenes by demanding to view the correspondence between Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the after math of post-Godhra riots of 2002. The RTI petition wants to look at, in public interest, the communications exchanged between the PMO and the Gujarat government from 27 February 2002 to 30 April 2002, essentially the period witnessing intense communal violence that resulted in deaths of over 2,000 Muslims in various parts of the western state. While special investigation team appointed by the Supreme Court of India has exonerated Modi from complicity in the riots,  until now the PMO has been more than reluctant to give the six-month-old RTI application an answer in the affirmative. Particularly, in December 2013, the PMO had cited Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act, which exempts information that would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders, to refuse the application, even though the refusal itself was put on hold by Justice Ravindra Bhat of Delhi hHigh Court. Justice Bhat had asserted that reasons to withhold information must not become excuses for dodging RTI applications. Given that the SIT has formally freed Modi from playing any alleged role in the riots, what reason could there be in preventing the communication from entering public domain?

The question that remains to be answered, however, is, once again the timing of the application and the sudden promptness on part of PMO to seek Modi’s validation in doing so. While the crude political motivation behind orchestrating this maneuver cannot be denied or wished away, but it is equally important to bear in mind that the nation has a right to know whether the man it considers its ‘next prime minister’ has anything to hide. While the PMO has deftly deflected the question towards the Gujarat CM, who must now give his assent or dissent accordingly, what is desirable in public interest is making available the correspondence and let the people decide whether there is anything amiss. While Vajpayee’s displeasure at Gujarat CM’s handling of the riots is widely known, what matters more is public accountability of a potential top figure in the next government. Stonewalling it would only diminish  democracy.
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