Political funding: reforms needed

That the sources of over 50% of the funds received by national political parties during 2017-18 remain unknown shows how deep and opaque a black hole the country’s political funding system is. A report by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has revealed that six parties, mainly the BJP, together received Rs 1,293 crore in donations from various sources but showed Rs 689 core as having been received from unknown sources. Out of this, Rs 215 crore was raised through electoral bonds, the opaque way created by the Modi government for receiving money from corporate donors. The BJP received the maximum donations, totalling Rs 1,027 crore, and so suppressed most information about the sources.  

It is the loopholes in the laws, deliberately created and kept open, and the new instrument of electoral bonds, that make the system opaque and give an unfair advantage to the ruling party. The law does not require parties to reveal the names of individuals or organisations that donate less than Rs 20,000 in cash or any amount of money through the electoral bonds. Parties take advantage of this provision and break down donations into amounts less than Rs 20,000 to avoid having to report names. There are specially assigned groups in parties to do the work. Electoral bonds, which are issued by a state-owned bank to those who want to make contributions to parties, is the new black box in political funding. For these reasons, we do not even know if the amounts declared are the full amounts received. We can only conclude that what’s declared is just the tip of the iceberg. Worse, the name of the donor is not known to citizens or to other parties. But the government can get to know the donor, because the bank that issues and encashes the bond is owned by it. No wonder the BJP, being the ruling party, has got the lion’s share of the donations. Which corporate would want to antagonise it by donating to opposition parties!  

All parties have a vested interest in keeping the sources of funds unknown because most of it is unaccounted money. They tolerate black money, protect its sources and use it. There are no correct records of the spending of these funds, either. That is why election funds and expenditure are the biggest source of corruption and black money. It is also now clear that electoral bonds is an unfair system by which the ruling party can choke funds to opposition parties. The ADR’s recommendation that the details of donations and donors should be made public is not new, but it is time political parties were forced by public pressure, by the Election Commission, and by law, to do so. Otherwise, our democracy is in danger.

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Political funding: reforms needed

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