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Madhya Pradesh
Cong turns to RTI to take on BJP
Our Roving Editor Man Mohan writes from Kukshi (MP)

It is said that knowledge is power. But those sitting on the seat of power hate any attempt made to know about them inside out.

That is why, politicians and bureaucrats dislike the Right To Information (RTI) Act, which people have started using extensively to expose corruption in the corridors of power.

But, interestingly, in the Madhya Pradesh assembly election campaign many politicians, especially of the Congress, are using the RTI route to gather information against ruling Bharatiya Janata Party ministers for use in the poll campaign.

The other opposition parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party never thought of using the RTI channel to turn the heat on BJP ministers. But, on seeing many Congress leaders making use of it in their campaign, they say, "We will certainly use the RTI next time."

Among the Congress leaders, Jamuna Devi took the lead in using the RTI Act to collect information about the omissions and commissions of the ruling BJP ministers.

Counted among the veterans, Jamuna Devi is the leader of the opposition in the Assembly. She won her maiden election in 1952. She is seeking re-election from Kukshi in Dhar district of the Malwa region.

"The RTI is a powerful weapon to expose corruption and false promises of the ruling BJP party," says Jamuna Devi, who is confident of voters again sending her back to Bhopal.

Her party colleague and Madhya Pradesh Congress spokesman K. K. Mishra has also made extensive use of the information gathered through the RTI channel in the current poll campaign against his and the party's chief adversaries.

Jamuna Devi, Mishra and others used the information collected through the RTI to file complaints to the Lokayukta and the State Bureau of Economic Offences against several ministers. Mishra's main targets were: commerce and industries minister Jayant Malviya and food and civil supplies minister Akhand Pratap Singh.

When told that the BJP and other opposition parties could also use the RTI to corner ministers of his party if it came to power, Mishra said, "Why not? We are not afraid. The RTI is for everyone. It is the BJP which fears the RTI as it has helped expose its double-faced leaders."

The Congress is also using the information gathered through the RTI medium for its election advertisements and posters.

The Congress has issued a 100-page charge sheet against the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government. It has listed 139 allegations against the Chief Minister and at least 13 of his ministers. Chouhan is seeking re-election from Budhni in Sehore district, near Bhopal.

An angry BJP has retaliated by releasing aggressive and damaging advertisements and posters. In one such advertisement, the BJP has gone back to the days of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's regime to remind people of the Bofors gun scandal, with a punch line: "The Congress has always been known to be a fountain-head of corruption."

The BJP has also chosen the last Congress Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, to "educate" voters that the then Lokayukt, Justice Faizanuddin, had observed that "the Digvijay government is a gang of Alibaba and 40 thieves."

Digvijay Singh ruled the state as Chief Minister for 10 years. But now as an AICC general secretary, he has kept himself away from the electoral battle this time. Samajwadi Party spokesman Munawar Khan Kausar admitted that "it never occurred to us to use the RTI route to attack the saffron leaders."

The BSP's state president, Narmada Prasad Ahirwar, says, "We do not require the RTI to know the depth of corruption. Our vote bank members are poor people, belonging to the OBCs, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and other minority communities."

"These people daily witness the corrupt practices of their elected BJP and Congress representatives in Parliament, Assembly and the Panchayati Raj institutions," points out Ahirwar.

An RTI activist, Ajay Dubey, says politicians and bureaucrats have deliberately tried not to let people understand the power of the RTI to gather information about their welfare from the government departments.

"These politicians fear that they will become the first target of the RTI weapon," says Dubey, adding that "I am happy to see that even the politicians with their limited agenda to target their rivals are understanding the power of the RTI. It is a good trend to ensure transparency and good governance. Finally, the politicians have realised that awareness is the key to success.

And, both the ruling BJP and Congress in their campaign are doing their best to make people aware about the skeletons in each other's cupboard - thanks to the Right to Information.

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