Millennium Post

There is a silver lining

As one-sixth of the total electorate voted in the first phase of the Lok Sabha polls, NDA term's contentious Electoral Bond Scheme survived scrutiny. After a substantial amount of time invested in the court proceedings – hearing of pleas challenging the validity of electoral bonds and their usage for political funding in the ongoing general elections – the Supreme Court on Friday delivered a lukewarm judgement. Having noted the arguments of both parties, it turned down an interim stay on electoral bonds – primary demand of petitioners, CPI(M) and ADG. However, the apex court directed all political parties to provide complete information on each and every political donor and contributions made through electoral bonds in a sealed cover to the Election Commission of India (ECI) by May 30. Further, it directed the finance ministry to reduce the window of purchasing electoral bonds from 10 days to five days in April-May. The Supreme Court duly acknowledged the severity of the electoral bond issue and how it has a tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process. Hence, the CJI-led bench issued interim directives citing insufficient time to pursue a detailed examination at present. SC's acknowledgement of the severity of this issue is a partial win for the petitioners who claim that the electoral bonds scheme has "opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate donations to political parties and anonymous financing by Indian as well as foreign companies which can have serious repercussions on the Indian democracy". SC's directions to political parties, however, keeps the argument balanced and not completely against the petitioners. Transparency and anonymity have been bones of contention here with the government adamantly citing how electoral bonds limit the use of cash in political funding, thus bringing more transparency, and providing a shield to donors by granting them anonymity. The petitioners have argued how this scheme has removed the caps on campaign donations by companies and have legalised anonymous donations. They are apprehensive that electoral bonds are "bound to adversely affect electoral transparency, encourage corrupt practices in politics". Their argument revolves around how this flawed scheme has made the unholy nexus between politics and corporate houses more opaque and treacherous and is vulnerable to be misused by special interest groups and corporate houses. But the government stands firm on its statement that this scheme "has brought in a marked shift from the old electoral system which suffered from many lacunas" as "massive amounts of political donations were being made in cash, by individuals/corporates, using illicit means of funding". And, that it could be used to curb black money. But same was the central promise for demonetisation and by the details furnished regarding the electoral bond scheme, demonetisation seemed far better an alternative for demonetisation. AG's argument that the electoral bonds attempt at bringing greater transparency, ensuring KYC compliance and keeping an audit trail in comparison to the earlier opaque system of cash donations, sounds completely doable but morally indigestible. From a simple perspective, if there is no cap for donation and the donor gets to exercise anonymity, then it somewhere paints an ideal route for foreign parties, who are completely irrelevant to Indian political parties and their elections, and unethical interests, who may seek to influence the elections and ensuing government, to pump in massive amounts of money. ECI has this similar concern where they cited how amending the Representation of the People Act which "prohibits the political parties from taking donations from government companies and foreign sources" would impact transparency, a paramount feature of elections in every sense. ECI's remarks and petitioner's objections produce a cohesive argument which was evidently overwhelming for the apex court to pronounce a complete judgement, which it noted through its issuance of interim orders. Now, given the time period for furnishing donor details to ECI – by May 30 – it is understandable that more electoral bonds will be issued but ECI would be in possession of the identity of the donors and could raise concern should it notice anything dubious. That has been the silver lining of their efforts towards ensuring that electoral bonds don't benefit any certain party.

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