On the same page for once
It is an issue on which the perennially squabbling political parties of India, ironically have no disagreements about. Their stance is crystal clear:they want corporate money in their party coffers and have no qualms whatsoever in receiving corporate donations. This intriguing consensus came to the fore when the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Congress supported corporate donations for political entities during a recent consultation on electoral reforms. H.S. Brahma, who retired as chief election commissioner on Saturday, had told reporters after the consultations that “there was a broad consensus that there should be no corporate funding of political parties and instead a National Electoral Trust under the control of the EC should be set up for corporate donations”.Clearly the leading parties of our country are not part of that broad consensus.
Furthermore as a long-awaited report released last week revealed, there remains no ceiling on poll spending by parties, perhaps the most serious flaw of our electoral system. This is ominous because it means that parties with deep war chests can outspend their political rivals and secure victory. This is probably what happened in the 2014 general elections, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which swept to victory, spent Rs714 crore. 198 crore more than the ousted Congress party. A non-partisan advocacy group, estimates that nearly three-fourths of national parties’ total income now comes from unknown sources. The main loophole with disclosure was the fact that while parties had to reveal to the election commission the names of donors who gave amounts greater than Rs20,000, they did not have to do so for smaller sums. In order to avoid disclosure, parties therefore often broke up larger donations from one source into parcels of less than Rs20,000. Thus conveniently avoiding full disclosure.
Analysis of IT Returns of National Parties between Financial Year 2004-05 and 2012-13 shows that the total income of the parties from unknown sources of income amounted to Rs.4,368.75 crores (72.98% of total income of national parties). It is a fact that the crusade against black money cannot be completed unless due attention is paid to the possible use of unaccounted money in the electoral and political processes of the country. Disclosure of sources of income of candidates contesting in elections will ensure that the increase of their income is through legal and known sources. Moreover it is high time that political parties are brought under the ambit of the Right to Information Act. The first step in shutting down the parallel flow of black money in our country is preventing it from finding its way into our politics.