By Nitya Chakraborty
The campaign for the state assembly elections to the states of Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala along with the union territory of Puducherry is in full swing now. The polling starts on March 27 and ends on April 29 and the results will be announced on May 2.The major national parties as also the regional parties are involved and the outcome will have a bearing on shaping the national polity in the coming days.
Since the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, there has been a sea change in the manner of conducting elections. The political parties are spending heavily on the campaigning and social media has been playing a major role in influencing the opinion of the electorate. The expenditure limit of the candidates set by the election commission has become meaningless as the political parties are free to spend huge amounts for campaigning. The BJP is taking maximum advantage of the present opportunity by spending huge funds for campaigning destroying any level playing field in the election campaigning. Both in respect of mobilization of fund from corporates and through electoral bonds, the BJP is much ahead against the Congress which is the main national opposition party.
The Congress is in such a precarious position that last month, a meeting was urgently held by the high command to assess the financial position before the elections and it was found that the lack of resources has hit the party most in meeting the challenge of BJP in the recent period. With its huge money power, the BJP was able to organise defections from the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Puducherry leading to the fall of the Congress led state governments. The factional fights in the Congress had role but the money power of the BJP acted as the potent weapon. Similar is the situation in West Bengal where defections are being organised by the BJP with money power taking advantage of the dissatisfaction and greed of the dissenting Trinamool Congress legislators.
All talk of transparency in funding by the corporates is meaningless now as the NDA government has amended a number of acts to facilitate donations by the industrial houses to the political parties and this has helped BJP because BJP is firmly in power and its government at the centre is in a position to help the big houses.
The government amended the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), by making it legal for foreign companies to donate to political parties through their subsidiaries in India.
Further, amendment was brought about in the Companies Act, wherein the cap of 7.5% of annual profits (in last three years) which could be made by companies as donation to political parties, was removed.
By doing away with transparency, an amendment was made to the Income Tax Act by way of which the requirement of donor companies to disclose details about the political parties to which such a donation is made, was removed.
However, the most damaging amendment was brought about in the RBI Act that introduced a non-transparent way of donating unlimited amounts to political parties even through banking channels by purchasing electoral bonds. Electoral bonds or EBs are like bearer bonds which could be given to political parties. The identity of the person who purchases these bonds is not known to the public or even to the Election Commission, but is known to the State Bank of India and through them, the government.
All these amendments together have disproportionately diverted political funding to the party in power BJP and vastly improved their striking power as against the Congress and the regional parties in the elections. The BJP took full advantage of these government decisions in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, they will get this more in the coming assembly elections.
More than 95 per cent of the initial tranche of electoral bonds went to the BJP, and even thereafter, the vast bulk of it has gone to the BJP. That these donations are being made largely by corporates is clear from the fact that more than 99 per cent of the bonds have been purchased in denominations of 1 crore and 10 lakh. The Congress during its rule used to get favours from the industrial houses through large donations but that has come to a trickle now as the GOP has no power after 2014 to offer quid pro quo to the corporates. The BJP with its aggressive pro big houses policy is taking almost the entire kitty leaving only miniscule portion to others including Congress.
The electoral bonds scheme was opposed by both the election commission and the RBI but the government ignored the views of both and went ahead with the scheme benefitting solely the BJP. The Supreme Court has the petition challenging the bond pending though it is of utmost importance in ensuring level playing field in political funding for elections. The NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) filed application on March 9 again to stop sale of bonds till the issue is decided by the Court.
As the campaign for the state assembly elections is reaching its peak and there are reports that the BJP is using its huge money power to win elections, it is in the interests of the proper functioning of democracy in the country that the Supreme Court gives the ADR petition on electoral bonds top priority. (IPA Service)