‘Electoral bonds and Modi government!’

  • Prakash Pohare

In our constitutional democratic system, legislature, executive and judiciary are extremely important and powerful institutions. But in recent times, the credibility of the legislature and the executive seems to be eroding. In such a situation, the fear has arisen in the minds of democrats that whether the judiciary has bowed before these two systems? At such a sensitive time, in the month of February this year, the Supreme Court declared the 'Electoral Bond Scheme' unconstitutional. This decision has broken this sentiment to some extent. It is appropriate to see this decision not only as an unconstitutional law of the Modi government, but also as a decision that determines the future of Indian democracy, welfare state system, one person-one vote-one value, rule of law.

What did the government do?

To know this, let us understand the unconstitutional changes made in the Companies Act, Income Tax Act, Representation of the People Act by the 'Finance Act 2017' passed by the Parliament. According to Section 182 of the Companies Act, a company can donate 7.5 percent of its average profit of the last three years to any political party. It is mandatory for the company to declare donations given to political parties along with the profit and loss sheet of the concerned party. By eliminating these restrictions, the Finance Act allowed any company – whether for profit or not – to make unlimited financial contributions to political parties and not have to disclose how much money it gave to which party! According to Section 13A of the Income Tax Act, accountants of political parties accepting donations of more than Rs. 20,000 are required to maintain a record of the donor's name and address and the donation made. By amending the Finance Act, political parties accepting donations through electronic bonds are not required to maintain these records. Section 29-C of the Representation of the People Act makes it mandatory for the treasurer of a political party or his nominee, accepting donations exceeding Rs. 20,000 from any person or company, to prepare a donation report for each financial year. It was also approved in the new Finance Act that this restriction will not apply to donations accepted by political parties through electronic bonds. Looking at the changes made to these three old laws together by the new finance law, it appears that political parties are not required to declare donations received through electronic bonds, companies can donate any amount to political parties. Donations can be made, whether or not they are for profit, and no one is required to declare those donations. Everything is confidential and is put behind a smokescreen so as to not be visible to voters! This clearly shows the difference between the words and actions of the Modi government which talks about transparent governance.

In the Preamble of our Constitution, India has been called a 'democratic republic'. Our democracy rises above caste and class differences and gives equal value to every vote of every citizen. Democracy begins at the time of elections and does not end after the elections. Democracy survives because citizens hold representatives accountable for their work. Public representatives are tied to the citizens. Money plays a pivotal role in the process of entering into politics, getting elected and staying in power again. Of course, a lot of damage has already been done due to the delay in decision on such an important issue. Our democracy is passing through the era of crony capitalism. In return for giving huge donations to political parties, laws, schemes, policies are being made for their own benefit, contracts are being taken or corporate scams are being covered up.

‘Hide’ policy of State Bank!

After the Supreme Court declared the Electoral Bond Scheme unconstitutional, the State Bank of India was directed not to issue electoral bonds from now on and to provide all the information about the bonds purchased from April 12, 2019, till now, to the Election Commission by March 6, 2024. And the Commission was directed to publish all the information on its official website by March 13, 2024, but the State Bank asked for time for this, but the Supreme Court rejected the demand and ordered to provide the information within 24 hours. The information released by the Election Commission of India today on its website regarding the electoral bonds issued by State Bank has brought to light many controversial issues. My friend and Chairman of the Rights Protection Council, Barrister Vinod Tiwari, sums up the contentious issues as follows...

1) This list is in two parts - Part one contains date-wise information about which company has taken electoral bonds worth how many rupees. 2) Part two of the list includes only date-wise political parties with whom these electoral bonds have been deposited. 3) But which bond is given, by which beneficiary, to which political party? This information and matching have been hidden. 4) A look at the list of beneficiaries of electoral bonds shows that bonds worth more than thousands of crores have been purchased by major drug manufacturing companies producing important medicines, which mainly include those companies which are involved in manufacturing of expensive medicines (Remdesivir) during the Covid-19 period. Why did they give this bond amount worth thousands of crores to the political ruling parties? There is no scope to understand this, because companies making life-saving medicines should not play with people's lives and for what benefit have these companies given donations to these politicians? It is very important for the country to understand this. Because these also include those companies which sold Remdesivir injections worth lakhs and crores during the Covid period. 5) Similarly, for what benefit were the companies taking big contracts in infrastructure projects donating to political parties through electoral bonds? The country also needs to understand this! 6) To which political parties were the bonds worth thousands of crores taken by stock market and security exchange brokers and diamond market traders given for what benefit? The country also needs to understand this! 7) Through this electoral bond, an amount of more than Rs. 13000 crores was secretly given to the ruling political parties. For what political benefit did these capitalists give it? It is very important for the country to understand this. 8) But State Bank has hidden all this information and State Bank has not submitted any information to the Election Commission about which beneficiary has given electoral bonds worth thousands of crores to which political party, so this is directly the violation of the order of the Supreme Court. Due to this, the people of the country are being deprived of their fundamental rights to get information.

Now the important thing is that according to the report of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), Bharatiya Janata Party has benefited the most from the Electoral Bond Scheme in 2022-23. The ruling party has received almost 90 percent of the corporate funding. Therefore, the names and amounts of donors were announced as per the instructions given by the Supreme Court to the State Bank of India and the Election Commission, but the State Bank did so by literally following the instructions of the Supreme Court on the above points. They suppressed the truth shrewdly. India's largest State Bank, which claimed to have 48 crore accounts and high level of digitisation, pathetically hid the truth by becoming a puppet of the ruling party. Declaring the electoral bonds scheme 'unconstitutional', the Supreme Court highlighted the ‘Right to Information’ of Indian citizens to know about the funding of political parties and said that if a party gets undue financial benefit, it would not be considered appropriate. SBI had earlier refused to give this information. This means that SBI tried to shield the government from any criticism of the exchange between the government and the corporates and also the corporates from whom it purchased these bonds under pressure from the government through raids/threats. Before the State Bank presented this information, this doubt actually became true that people would have to climb the stairs of the court again.

Whatever be the case, from the overall information that has come to light, it has become clear that ‘Everything is fishy.’

Most of the electoral bonds that were bought for and given to the ruling party were certainly not given as goodwill, but were directly extorted through threats through the ED, CBI, Income Tax Department or the business was done under the garb of ‘donations’. This is clear and that is why it is a matter of relief that before the elections, the real face of BJP stands exposed. Now the thing to be seen is whether the voters keep their common sense awake or adopt the attitude like 'a cat drinks milk with its eyes closed' (Ignoring a problem wilfully)? If this happens, then it is certain that democracy will have to go away from this country.

(The author is the Editor of Marathi daily ‘Deshonnati’, Hindi daily ‘Rashtra Prakash’ and weekly ‘Krishakonnati’) The author can be contacted at 9822593921.