'Power to the People'

T Vijayendra

The RTI (Right to Information) has been a campaign blessed with the success of evolving into a genuine and vibrant people's movement. Many more arduously fought struggles have not been favoured with the fortuitous circumstances, such as those that enabled the passage of RTI". Thus the authors begin humbly. It is a ball by ball account of the formation of MKSS and its subsequent growing step by step into a large movement locally and initiating a national campaign that resulted in the passage of 'a legislation that has arguably changed the contours of democratic governance in India' (1987-2005). Today some 6 to 8 lakh people use the act every year. Most people's movement all over the country use it to get information and strengthen themselves with information that has been sourced from the government itself.

Of course, the ruling classes never gave in easily. At every stage they put hindrances in term of delays, offering a watered-down legislation, not giving executive order, not implementing it, and so on. Then they tried to amend the act. They have successfully denied access to RTI from many government departments. Today, while the act is still there and is still being used with some success, Aruna herself feels the "Need to hit streets again over RTI" (Hyderabad, Deccan Chronicle, May 13, 2018). But it is unlikely to happen. The time which gave rise to these movements has gone and the generation of people who were active have grown old and tired and some have even died. It is the end of an era. What has happened?

It all began in 1984 with the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The word tragedy is of course a euphemism. It was a crime committed by a section of the ruling class against people and against environment. And so it gave rise to a people's movement not only in Bhopal, but all over the country. The biggest and the most significant was of course the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The most glaring characteristic of these movements was that none of the electoral political parties supported them, except some individuals of these parties when the parties were not in power. Everywhere ordinary people with local leadership from the "victims' of the 'development' fought for their rights to 'jal, jungle aur jameen' (water, forest and land) which were encroached upon by the industry with the connivance of the government. Various state governments passed special draconian preventive detention acts to jail the activists without due process of law. They created private armies like Salwa Judum in Chattisgarh to evict people. Many activists and people were jailed, tortured and murdered. It is in this background that the RTI movement was born and was 'blessed with success'. In all other cases there were 'many failures and few successes'.

Alarmed with the rise of people's own movement which were not 'regularised' by the  political parties, the ruling classes turned increasingly right wing ending in the embrace of communal politics and fascism. This has changed the situation. Poor people lost some of the support from the middle class 'civil society' people. A new consumerist middle class has emerged. So now they have to depend on their own. Also the traditional supporter of the poor, the left wing appears to have a new lease of life. So a new class of movements is emerging such as the farmers' march in Mumbai recently. While the electoral politics has become personality based, people's movements have remained issue based.

All the same. Indian people's movement has yet to come to grips with the current issues and 'hit the streets' on those issues. What are they? These are environment degradation and resultant global warming; resource depletion, that is, exhaustion of the mineral resources such as oil, coal and metals on which much of the industrial society runs and growing disparity among nations and among classes within the nations. We are living on the brink and there is a 'global emergency'. Just take a look at one statistic. Of the total weight of all mammals on this planet, human and domestic animals contribute 97%. All the wild life mammals—tigers, wolves, rabbits are only 3% by weight! Can the planet survive? I strongly recommend all of you to see a 2 minute film on You Tube by David Attenborough, "F'***ked Planet'.1 Mr Attenborough is very pessimistic. There are other individuals, activists and groups which have a more balanced view. For a peep into this world you can visit the website:

A book about a movement often signals the end of a phase of the movement. The RTI Story indeed tells the story of a historic movement. But it belongs to history. Chronicling history is extremely important. It tells the coming generations that their achievements are a result of generations of struggle and that the struggle will go on. Reading such accounts is very humbling and educative. Aruna Roy and the MKSS Collective have done their job. Now it is for the new generation to take the movement forward in a different situation and on different issues.

1. After a particularly depressing Earth Day, a crestfallen David Attenborough announced a new documentary series. 'F***ed Planet : David Attenborough's New Documentary'

The RTI Story: Power To The People
by Aruna Roy and the MKSS Collective, New Delhi, 2018. Roli Books, Price Rs 495

Vol. 51, No.2, Jul 15 - 21, 2018