BONDS, ELECTORAL BONDS
A heady mix of politics, satire and current events, Meghnad S's Parliamental is a roller-coaster ride through the corridors of power. Excerpts:
'Sir, look at this. Someone in Uttar Pradesh got lynched by a mob…'
Srikar barely looked up while scribbling frantically on a document. 'Not now, Raghav. Focus on this bill, please.'
Raghav kept the newspaper down and stared at the document on his laptop. Srikar had been assigned another bill and Raghav had drafted a speech for him. The legislation, related to the general budget, was titled 'Finance Bill, 2015'. It was a super complex and technical bill which Raghav lost interest in the moment he started leafing through it.
According to him, the speech he had written was wishywashy. Full of random demands from the state government he had found online, some issues about pending payments and a few projects in Nagpur which had been stalled because of funding issues.
Srikar had glanced through it, looked up and asked, 'Did you even read the bill?'
'Umm … yes sir, I did,' replied Raghav.
'Nonsense, boy. If you would have, you'd know that this government is doing a shitty thing to hide political funding from sources. Did you read that clause?'
'What is this, boy? Go get me Dushyant. Right away,' hollered Srikar before tossing the speech away.
Now they were just sitting around waiting for Dushyant to arrive while Raghav was trying his best to take a stab at the bill again. But every time he read a line, he lost interest. How in the world is anyone supposed to read this crap? I'm no lawyer. I don't know this lawyerspeak.
He reminded himself about how he had read a few opinion pieces about the NJAC the first time round when he had done that speech for Srikar. Then he had sat down and painstakingly identified clauses which spoke about the issues with the bill. A speech which turned out to be an absolute disaster.
For this finance bill, zero people had written anything about it. No one was discussing it. Nobody seemed to have even noticed this clause that Srikar was talking about.
What in the world?!
The doorbell rang and Jeetu came in, ushering Dushyant inside while asking him if he wanted chai. Dushyant ignored him and extended his hand to shake Srikar's. Srikar got up with a smile and shook his. Both of them had good-natured friendly smiles on their faces, as if they were both aware of something epic they were about to pull off together.
'I hope you had a chance to look at that clause, sir?' said Dushyant, sitting down across from Srikar. 'Was I correct?'
'Yes, yes. This is most interesting. It's strange that this government is trying to make political funding non-transparent,' said Srikar. He looked at Raghav. 'My useless staff wasn't able to notice it. But thank you for being proactive, Dushyant!'
Raghav tried to shrink in size and become a peanut. Sadly, he failed.
'Okay Dushyant, so I have decided to base my complete speech on this point. It's preposterous. It's something we should focus on. I need a favour from you,' said Srikar.
'Sure, sir. How can I help?'
'Sit here with Raghav and help him draft the speech, please? I only ask you to give half an hour of your time. That's all.'
'Sure. You go do your other work while I deal with this.' Dushyant looked at Raghav and gave him a friendly smile. Raghav wasn't feeling particularly friendly at that point, so he just looked away.
Srikar got up, stretched and announced that he was off to do some shopping for his wife. Jeetu was summoned and both of them rushed off to Khan Market.
Dushyant opened his laptop and started typing furiously, without a word.
'Soooo … can you tell me about this … thing?' said Raghav timidly.
Dushyant paused, looked at him, nodded and went back to typing.
After what seemed like an eternity, he looked up from his laptop and said, 'Right. So all you have to do is put what I have written into his speech. Got it?
Raghav glared at him. 'No, I don't get it. Please explain it to me so that I can write it myself.'
'Why? Why do you want to waste time? It's written here, just read it and give it to him.'
'Srikarji might not like my ability to read bills but he does like my use of language. The only reason why he let me work on this is because I can think in his words and spew out stuff which he is comfortable reading out. So please, just explain it and I'll write,' responded Raghav rather defensively.
He did not appreciate this Dushyant sweeping into the room and taking away all the glory just by showing up. He might be an expert and all, but he was no speech writer. Raghav was proud of his ability to write and he wasn't willing to give it up for any so-called expert.
Besides, Dushyant is such an arrogant prick.
The lawyer sighed and said, 'Okay, so in Section 234 of the bill they are making changes to the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934, and they're creating electoral bonds which…'
'Wait wait wait. Hold up. Talk to me as a voter. Who knows nothing about political funding. At all.'
Dushyant looked genuinely confused.
'Okay. Let me ask you this: how do parties get funds?'
'Are you serious? You don't know?'
'No, I don't. Now tell me.'
Dushyant sighed and closed his laptop. 'According to the Representation of People's Act, people are allowed to donate `20,000 or less anonymously…'
'Nope nope. Simpler. I ask again, how do parties get funds?'
Dushyant was getting visibly irritated now. 'Fine. People give money to political parties in cash or cheque. If the cash amount is more than `20,000, who has given the money has to be disclosed. If it's a cheque, it has to be declared by default.'
Raghav started typing furiously on his laptop. 'Declared where?'
'In the annual accounts of the political party. There has to be a proper list of donors to ensure transparency. The Election Commission asks political parties to make it public.'
'So this bill is changing a lot of that.'
'One, they're reducing the cash donation limit to `2,000 and two, they're introducing a new instrument called electoral bonds which can be used to give donations to political parties. These bonds can only be bought using white money, meaning cheque, demand draft or bank transfer.'
'Okay. That doesn't sound so bad. Is that bad?'
'On the surface it looks legitimate, but electoral bonds are actually going to ensure that the names of the donors remain hidden from the public. Nobody will know who donated to which party.'
Raghav reflected on this for a bit. 'So if I want to donate using electoral bonds, what do I need to do?'
Dushyant opened his laptop and checked something. Raghav had thrown him a question he did not have a solid answer to. 'That is unclear from the proposed law. But it says that electoral bonds will have to be bought from a registered government bank and given to the political party.'
(Excerpted with permission from Parliamental; written by Meghnad S; published by Harper Collins. The excerpt here is a part of the chapter titled 'Bonds Electoral Bonds'.)