When the government of India introduced the electoral bonds, it claimed they would bring transparency to political party funding. But the bonds have just done the opposite. It compromised electoral transparency and has made political party funding murky in the world’s largest democracy. Why are electoral bonds continuing to damage Indian democracy even after it was red-flagged by the Election Commission of India? Hear this Podumentary out!
Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd)
Jagdeep S Chhokar
Founder & Trustee
Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR)
Freelance Development Researcher, BBC
Editor Investigations, The Quint
Former Chief Election Commissioner of India
Produced below are the abridged version of the transcripts of our Podumentary (audio documentary) titled: Electoral Bonds: The curse of Indian democracy
When the government of India introduced the electoral bonds, it claimed they would bring transparency to political party funding. But the bonds have just done the opposite. It compromised electoral transparency and made political party funding murky in the world's largest democracy.
The electoral bonds scheme allows individuals and corporations to purchase electoral bonds from the State Bank of India, which can then be provided to political parties. The bonds are bearer instruments, and the political parties must deposit them in the SBI to redeem them. The bond is valid for a period of 15 days from the day of its purchase. However, the names of the donors will remain anonymous.
According to the State Bank of India data, donations to political parties through electoral bonds have already crossed the Rs 10,000 crore mark in the 21st sale of electoral bonds conducted between July 1 and 10.
Several organisations, including the Association for Democratic Reforms, have been advocating for the disclosure of the details of the bond donors. RTI activist and retired Commodore Lokesh Batra has been tracking the sale of electoral bonds since its introduction. The replies received through his RTI petitions have thrown more light on the extent of funding received by political parties in the country through the EB scheme.
"I had filed RTIs starting from the Election Commission of India to the Ministry of Law to different departments in the Ministry of Finance. Initially, in their letter of 26 May 2017, the Ministry of Law clearly mentioned it was a retrograde step which would create a shell company and add to the corruption. Even the day before the announcement in Parliament, they decided that they should be asking RBI's views also. In the process of bringing electoral bonds, every law meant for conducting free and fair elections was changed, including the RBI Act was diluted. The RBI said that this is not the correct way of doing it. The Election Commission said it would bring in corruption. That was their first reaction. However, it was stated on the file that since the speech is already finalised, let's go ahead with the announcement. When you go through the files, you will realise that even the Ministry of Law was against it."
Poonam Agarwal, Freelance Development Researcher with the BBC and Editor Investigations with The Quint, says that electoral bonds can be used to funnel black money into political parties by corporate houses that want to curry favours from the government. The EB scheme is nothing but the institutionalisation and legalisation of political corruption. "There were multiple communications which were made by different departments like Election Commission of India, the Ministry of Finance, as well as concerns were raised by the SBI because a company... a corporate company can very well set up a shell company just to root their black money and make donations to the political parties. So, the first claim of the government that it will weed out black money does not stand,” says Agarwal.
It's been more than five years since electoral bonds were introduced in India. Since then, some of the country's most important institutions, like the Election Commission of India, the Reserve Bank of India, and the State Bank of India, amongst others, have raised questions about the opacity of the scheme. Ullekh notes that it is time the people of the country are told who is funding the political parties in the world's largest democracy. "We hope there is a greater level of transparency in electoral bonds. You know, it's just as simple as disclosing how much money has been spent on buying electoral bonds by a particular corporate entity and who has this corporate entity donated more to. A huge sum of money goes to the ruling party, but we don't know anything more than that, but we need to know in the interest of democracy."