State Transparency after the Neoliberal Turn: The Politics, Limits, and Paradoxes of India's Right to Information Law



In 2005, the Indian government passed the Right to Information or RTI Act, which is hailed for inaugurating an era of open, accountable, and truly postcolonial democracy. This article focuses on how the RTI law is being both implemented and subverted in India through ordinary bureaucratic proceduralism and what this tells us about the limits and contrary logic of state transparency in the neoliberal age. India's information freedom law has moorings in local grassroots movements that fought long and hard for its passage, but it also articulates with the global neoliberal development regime's discourse on good governance. I consider where and how dominant transnational meanings of state transparency crosscut and color popular mobilizations of the RTI law in India. My contention is that the technocratic casting of transparent and good governance under neoliberalism lends a formalized and procedural hue to the ground-level workings of Indian law, which bureaucratizes social life, hems in activist aspirations for fundamental changes in democratic governance and, paradoxically, reinforces state opacity. On the one hand, citizens and activists are compelled to become proficient in bureaucratic literacy in order to audit and petition the state. On the other hand, officials strategically alter the language and procedures of administration, shifting the interplay between writing and orality in their daily work and changing what they record and how they do so to avert scrutiny and preserve state secrecy in the age of transparency.