Millennium Post

Quite the contrary

Brought in to check black money in election funding, electoral bonds have instead opened doors for anonymous financing largely benefitting the ruling party

Quite the contrary

It is now doubly clear why BJP wanted the electoral bond scheme the way it is, despite opposition from all those who stood for democratic principles and transparency.

The audit report of the party for 2018-19, submitted to the Election Commission showed total income for the year at over Rs 2,410 crore. This is a 134 per cent increase, in comparison to its Rs 1,027 crore income shown in the report for the previous year.

According to the report, over Rs 1,450 crore came from electoral bonds alone, in comparison to Rs 210 crore declared as income from electoral bonds.

Total expenditure declared by the party for 2018-19 is shown to be over Rs 1,005 crore. Expenditure has been shown as Rs 792.4 crore for election and general propaganda for the fiscal year. This is a 32 per cent rise from its Rs 758 crore in expenditure in 2017-18.

The Association of Democratic Reforms has taken the issue of 'anti-democratic' electoral bonds to the Supreme Court with compulsive arguments in favour of greater transparency and the need to block black money from entering election funding. The plea is pending for a final decision and the ruling party is merrily adding to its kitty.

Electoral bonds were supposed to check the use of black money in funding elections and it was argued that without institutionalised funding, corporate and other interested parties would pay political parties with questionable cash, often by round-tripping and siphoning off money from their businesses.

In practice, however, the scheme has opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate donations and anonymous financing. Instead of making election funding transparent, the bonds have put a veil of secrecy over donations, at the same time enabling the government to know who has paid whom. This makes the scheme a perfect quid pro quo mechanism for vested interests to please the ruling establishment and expect favourable government disposition in return. No one else has any means of knowing.

Further, exemption from disclosures under the electoral laws has eliminated accountability, which takes the issue beyond the reach of even the Election Commission of India (ECI). Also, the restrictions on the basis of donor companies' profitability have been removed, making it possible for underhand dealers to even float outfits to route funding to their preferred parties.

The biggest worry is that the bonds do not carry the name of the buyer or the payee. Similarly, the recipient party does not have to disclose the source from which the bonds have been received. This, in effect, hides the original buyer, offering massive scope for black and non-traceable money to enter the 'supply' chain. The bonds have neither smell nor colour.

It was precisely for this reason that the Reserve Bank of India had opposed the scheme as proposed by the government. The RBI's fears about the potential misuse of electoral bonds have now come out in the open. But the apex court's objections were overruled by the government. Details of how the ECI also objected to the lack of transparency have emerged, with a sticking point that the government withheld the information from Parliament.

The Central government has apparently been guided by 'after me the deluge' approach in pushing ahead with the blatantly arbitrary provisions. The scheme is overwhelmingly in favour of the ruling parties and puts the opposition parties to great disadvantage, as is evident from the results so far.

Media reports quoting the BJP's audit and income tax reports submitted to the ECI claim that 95 per cent of all political donations using electoral bonds have gone in favour of the ruling party in the first tranche in 2018. The numbers for 2019 have not been submitted by the parties but the bond sales peaked during the Lok Sabha elections in May and the ruling party is believed to have lionised these.

A sum total of Rs 4,444.32 crores worth of electoral bonds were purchased during the pre-poll phases, which means that close to 73 per cent of the bonds by value were sold in just these three phases. Similarly, bond sales in regional capitals have gone in favour of the ruling parties there.

Views expressed are strictly personal

K Raveendran

K Raveendran

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