New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on Thursday said bringing political parties under the Right to Information (RTI) Act would hamper the smooth functioning of parties and the information could be misused by opponents, in a departure from BJP’s earlier stance.

The ruling party’s U-turn, after initially supporting bringing political parties under the purview of the RTI, may draw the ire of activists who have been advocating greater transparency in the political system.

“Declaring a political party as public authority under the RTI Act would hamper its smooth internal working, which is not the objective of the RTI Act," minister of state for personnel and training Jitendra Singh said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.

He said no representations from parties opposing the Central Information Commission (CIC) order seeking to bring six national parties under RTI, have been received by the government. In June last year, the CIC had issued an order putting the BJP, Congress, Communist Party of India-Marxist, Nationalist Congress Party, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party under the sway of the RTI Act. The political parties were asked to appoint an appellate mechanism to disclose their sources of funding as well as details of expenditure.

All political parties opposed the order and, instead, introduced the controversial Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2013, to overturn it. The Bill was later sent to a parliamentary standing committee which in December declared that political parties should not be brought under the transparency law because they are not public authorities created by Parliament.

While the Congress, Left and others insisted that political parties cannot be brought under the purview of the act, the BJP initially backed a law to overrule the CIC order but later stated that it had no issues in being under the ambit of the law.

BJP vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi reiterated that the party wants transparency in financial transactions. “BJP is in favour of greater transparency and all political parties should be transparent in the financial dealings. Internal discussions of the party, ticket distribution are internal matters of the party. How can these decisions come under the RTI," Naqvi asked.

Activists, however, are adamant. “Our stand is very clear that the political parties play an important role in democracy. A lot of information they hold is in great public interest and so people have a right to know," said Anjali Bhardwaj of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI). “If at all the CIC’s order is to be challenged, it should be done in a court of law and to our understanding no party has approached the courts till now."

Congress leader P.C. Chacko said, “On every issue, the BJP is taking a U-turn. The Congress and the Left had always maintained political parties cannot be brought under the Act because they function democratically and they have the right to keep their confidentiality," Chacko said.

Gyan Varma and PTI contributed to this story.

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