In democracies across the world, the opacity of election funding is an area of grave, indeed existential concern. For, the potential for subversion such anonymity affords is perhaps one of the biggest threats facing democracy today; it is identified as the very fount of institutionalised corruption by several studies. The Centre’s electoral bond scheme for funding the poll expenditure of political parties is at best a partial solution to the black oil slick that contaminates our democratic waters.
Ostensibly, political donations in specified branches of the SBI, with the validity of the bonds restricted to 15 days, would seem to be one way of ending the role of black money. But the donor can remain a mystery. Yes, the donor’s own balance sheet would reflect the donation but unfortunately, the Election Commission, the I-T department and the voter would be in the dark about whom the money has gone to. The secret donor gets his hefty tax rebate.
If there’s any quid pro quo involved, there would be no way of knowing. The bank, in this case a state-owned one, would of course have the KYC of the donor and the recipient, because the bond can only be encashed through an official account of a political party. The ruling dispensation at the Centre would be at an advantage. If it so wishes, it can any day ferret out who’s funding whom from its banking authorities on some national security pretext or the other.
Only a recognised political party with a minimum one per cent voteshare can be a recipient. So, no level playing field. But the anonymity is the issue, being antithetical to transparency. Sans complete accountability, this is at best half-hearted.
One cannot but recall Justice M C Chagla’s famous words of caution from 1957 against political donations. Now, ADR data reveals nearly 31 per cent income of political parties is ‘unknown’; nearly `7,900 crore donations came from unknown sources in 2015-2016. These bonds will not change this. The EC, which initially opposed the bonds, now wants to watch it for an year. At the end of 2019, we, the people, are unlikely to be any wiser.