Millennium Post

Cynicism of money power

It is often argued that reform of political funding is key, perhaps, most significant part of fighting the menace of corruption. As long as parties do not disclose their sources of income and how that money is spent, political corruption will continue to breed corruption within the wider polity.

 A probe ordered into the sources of funding of a political party is a welcome move but why Aam Aadmi Party of Arvind Kejriwal should be singled out? Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde says the Centre will investigate whether AAP violated rules on its sources of funding. But the proposed investigation appears utterly biased when other parties are not subjected to a similar probe.

Unless the move to investigate the transparency claims of the AAP widens into probing the secretive nature of how other parties – including the Congress and the BJP – collect funds, it would seem to be a bullying tactic against a small political opponent. True, as the home minister says, government has ordered a probe into AAP’s funds following a directive by Delhi High court but this is not an excuse to exempt other political parties. There is no comparison between declared funds of the AAP and that of the Congress and the BJP.

Regrettably, the Congress has rejected the suggestions made by the Election Commission to bring transparency and accountability regarding donations received by political parties. The Congress, in response of EC’s letter, seeking views of all recognised parties on bringing transparency in their finances, has favoured status quo. The Commission, as part of its 10-point plan, to usher in transparency in the polling process, wants to make it mandatory for all parties to issue acknowledgment receipts to each individual or corporate donor irrespective of the amount donated and maintain a paper trail of the receipts that must be audited every fiscal year.

The EC is mulling over issuing instructions to the parties to submit to it the audited accounts – along with the contribution report – before 30 September every year or ahead of the due date for filing returns to the income tax department. The Commission has also proposed that the parties deposit all contributions and donations in a bank account within a reasonable timeframe. Initially, Congress is one of the two national parties – the other being CPI – that have submitted their views to the EC on guidelines for transparent party funding. The BJP, CPI-M, BSP and NCP have not responded to EC, despite the Commission having set a deadline.

The regional parties fare no better. With only four among the 19 giving their views on the matter. These include AIADMK, Trinamool Congress, Zoram Nationalist Party and Sikkim Democratic Front, all of which have reportedly largely backed the EC’s proposed measures. Despite Congress opposition, the Commission is likely to issue financial transparency guidelines to parties and continue with its clampdown on movement of unaccounted cash during electioneering. As early as 15 October, Congress treasurer, Motilal Vora, wrote to EC opposing a directive that makes it mandatory to issue an acknowledgement to every contributor. ‘It is neither practical nor possible to issue such receipts to individual making donations’.

Vora also objected to the crackdown on cash movement during elections. He was quoted as saying it was not possible for Congress ‘to ensure that party workers don’t carry funds in cash, exceeding a specified amount’.

The Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) has said in a report that more than 75 per cent of the income of national political parties from 2004-2005 to 2011-2012 came from unknown sources.

According to an analysis by New Delhi-based think tank, which works in the field of electoral reforms, only 8.9 per cent (Rs 434.85 crore) of the total income came from donors and 16.05 per cent (785.60 crores) came from other known sources such as sale of assets, membership fees, bank interest, sale of
publication and party levy. The 75 per cent of income from unknown source amounted to
Rs 3,674.50 crore, ADR said, presenting the case for the political parties to be brought under the scrutiny of India’s transparency law. Put together, the six political parties – the ruling Congress, the BJP, the NCP, the CPI(M), the CPI and the BSP – had total income of Rs 4,895.96 crore from
2004-2005 to 2011-2012.

Recently, there has been a heated public debate on TV channels about donations being made by the
corporate sector to various political parties for elections, mainly to the Congress and the BJP and to some others – depending on which area a particular company has more stake. Previously, there used to be somewhat hesitancy in admitting to the corporate-political monetary axis. But no longer now. One industrialist boasted that he gave donations to both the parties but of equal amount. Another donor was more curious but complained that it should not be disclosed publicly – clever thinking because of the uncertainly of which party may come to power. Such cynicism of money power playing a dominant role in the elections and the people accepting it as a normal feature, is a matter of grave concern for clean politics.

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