By Nitya Chakraborty
It is good that the Chief Justice of India N V Ramana has agreed to take up for hearing a pending petition challenging the Electoral Bond Scheme, 2018 .The 20th tranche of electoral bonds opened on April 1 this year and it will continue till April 10.It would have been better if the Supreme Court would have heard the plea before this in the interests of ensuring a level playing field in political funding and establishing transparency, but this has not been given that priority yet. It will now be in the best interests of the democracy if the petition is heard as early as possible. After the current sale of bonds, no further issue should be allowed.
Earlier on March 24 last year, the Supreme Court in its hearing on electoral bonds petition expressed right concerns about the misuse of electoral bonds but dismissed Association of Democratic Rights prayer to stay fresh sale of the electoral bonds. Asa result, the bonds sale continued from April 1 to 10 in 2021 and the same is in force this month also. But an earlier petition challenging the bonds sale is still pending and now the CJI N V Ramana has agreed to hear this pending plea’.
The important point which the learned judges, especially the then CJI S A Bobde missed in 2021 hearing was that this electoral bond issue is just a small part of the BJP government’s systematic efforts since its coming to power in 2014 to steamroll the opposition parties through financial muscle power and thereby ensure its governance through funding by the big corporates. In the process an unique system of quid pro quo has been institutionalised in the Indian business world which was never in existence in this country’s history since Indian independence.
The functioning of democracy in the states in India as also at centre is under threat due to this money power. The level playing field has been lost for the non-BJP parties and all these have been possible due to the huge resources mobilised by the BJP through corporate donations, active support of the big traders and the big funds supply by the overseas Indians close to BJP as also the VHP dominated overseas religious bodies.
There is nothing wrong for the BJP in collecting funds from its supporters. It is entitled to do so as any other political party. But the problem is when it tweaks the laws in its favour in a partisan way through its hold over the government and makes use of the central agencies in hounding the moneyed people who, in some way fund the opposition parties. The use of the central agencies like ED, CBI and the IT department has been so blatant that no corporate takes any risk to be involved with the Congress Party which is still the main opposition in the country. As a result, the coffers of the Congress have reached an all time low and in many states which went for assembly polls, the state Congress units desperately clamouring for more funds as they were outmatched by the fund rich BJP.
The electoral bonds can be purchased by the corporates but the names will be known to only issuer meaning State Bank of India and not the Election Commission. This means the names will be known to the centre and as the present government is known, the few people who dared to donate some funds to some opposition parties, will be blacklisted..The big houses are generally dominated by businessmen with Hindu faith, they have general sympathy for the BJP and that has grown in the last two decades, but many of them also sense democratic values and they are interested in giving some donations to other non-BJP parties. Even they are scared.
In 19 tranches since 2018, bonds worth Rs.9208.23 crore were sold. Political parties encashed bonds worth Rs.9187.55 crore. Nearly eighty per cent were received by the BJP. This amount collected by the BJP, is only a fraction of the total funds for elections spent by the ruling party during poll campaigns. There is a fear among the industry people that any support to its rival Congress Party in terms of donations, will be frowned upon. As a result, the main national rival, the Congress is starved of funds and is ill equipped to match the muscle power of the BJP in elections.
Anyone of the business world in India will talk in confidence that they can not run business by ignoring any request from the ruling party. Those who are very close to the BJP, are prospering and this gives a signal to the others which path to follow. It is a precarious situation now. Many of the young scions, alumni of Harvard or Yale who have ideals and who care for real democracy to thrive in India, are becoming unhappy at the present trend, but they love their business, they look for expansion and they have to fall in line. Who can take a big risk of annoying ruling dispensation at this time of pandemic when every corporate is struggling to survive and sustain.
The Attorney General K K Venugopal in last year’s hearing presented a confused picture in reply to the CJI query when he said that the bonds have ensured white money, not black money through cash. The issue is really not that, the issue is transparency. Why the Government and through that the ruling party will know who has bought the bonds and in whose favour? Further, this bond can be repurchased which opens up the possibility of dubious transactions. It is a double benefit for the ruling party. These days, nobody will take the risk of doing such transactions in favour of any opposition party. If it is done for the BJP, the concerned corporate will be safe. There will be no raid.
The CJI must assess what is the percentage of the electoral bonds benefitting the BJP till now and how disproportionate this is. The 20th tranche of bonds is on till April 10. The CJI N V Ramana will be doing a great service to Indian democracy and the Constitution if he stays the next issuance of electoral bonds. That will be our CJI’s best contribution to the cause of Indian democracy before his retirement in August this year. (IPA Service)