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Situational Irony

Situational Irony

Can the Supreme Court's refusal to provide an immediate stay on the contentious electoral bond scheme affect the upcoming Assembly elections in Delhi? A simple question with a not-so-simple answer. Electoral bonds are monetary instruments that citizens or corporate groups can buy from the State Bank of India and give to a political party. The party then is then free to redeem them. But the point of contention is the anonymity of these bonds. Electoral Bond Scheme was brought in to increase transparency in party funding and yet media disclosures and petitions filed in light of those dare to think otherwise. In its plea, the non-governmental organisation, Association of Democratic Reforms argued that the Reserve Bank of India had warned the Centre against the scheme, citing how it had "potential to increase black money circulation, money laundering, cross-border counterfeiting and forgery". It also included the Election Commission's concern over the transparency in funding. But all that ADR could yield from their carefully drafted plea was a reply from the Centre and the Election Commission on the matter. No immediate stay order. Election Commission has previously expressed its opposition to the anonymity of donations and donors in the scheme, and not the scheme itself. On this, the Supreme Court had last April directed all political parties to provide details of political donations — donors and donations received from each donor — in a sealed cover to the Election Commission. While the matter will be tabled again in two weeks, the mysterious electoral bond scheme continues to brew apprehensions of opaque poll-funding times. And, that is worrisome because limitless poll-funding in a democracy is a serious cause for concern. If media reports are to be believed, the various amendments brought in to usher the Electoral Bond Scheme in existence only make its concept murkier. ADB had previously challenged these five amendments made to the Reserve Bank of India Act, Representation of People Act, Income Tax Act, Companies Act and Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. Apprehensions of foreign shell companies funding political parties in India is another tangent of impact due to the opaqueness of the scheme. The ruling party amassing a large income from these bonds is not surprising in the event of convenient channels like bonds to direct funds to the party. But that counts as a benefit to all parties and not any single one. The larger question begging for an answer is the situational irony in place. If the scheme is brought with the intention to ensure transparency and curb the circulation of black money in poll funding, how is there a prevailing disparity in the intention and outcome?

The Centre had argued in last April's hearing over the electoral bond scheme that voters need not know the source of parties' funding. But that does not truly promote the spirit of democracy. In a democracy where the power comes from the will of the people, it is the people who ought to know everything. If the identity of those donating funds amounting to big figures is kept anonymous, where is the guarantee that those donations were not black money? Disclosure of those donors, when matched with their financial health, would give a fair picture of the donation. And, greater the transparency, greater the trust. Not being in public domain coupled with dubious reports only makes the matter contentious. Supreme Court, in this situation, could have taken suo motto cognisance to analyse the scheme itself with submissions from the Centre. An immediate stay would have been granted had the need been felt by the Court. Two weeks is enough for these bonds to amass the funds needed for the upcoming elections. And, with all the history of money's dubious involvement in party campaigns, the non-granted stay on the source of that money — electoral bonds — is only further feeding the insecurities hovering over the scheme. The model envisaged in 2017 does not fit the revelations floating over electoral bonds. The Court's verdict over the scheme would play a very crucial role in political parties' financial gains. Dubious funds can be questioned but for them to be questioned, they must be unveiled. It is funny that in the age of digitisation, the funding scheme of our political parties runs on traditional routes — interest-free banking instruments which can be bought from specified branches of State Bank of India. And, what's funnier is that the government ushering the age of digitisation with the flagship programme — Digital India — is the same government that brought the electoral bond scheme.

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