By Nitya Chakraborty
The 26th tranche of the electoral bonds is on sale from April 3 and it will continue till April 12. Karnataka assembly elections are scheduled on May 10. The principal beneficiary of the electoral bonds, will be in a position to make full use of the money available from the bonds for the campaigning and the other expenses for this crucial state polls. The BJP has massive financial resources but some additional is always welcome, especially after Karnataka polls where cash plays an important role in floor crossing of the greedy legislators.
In the case of the 25th tranche of the electoral bonds, the Narendra Modi government violated propriety by amending in a hurry the rules of the electoral bonds scheme on November 7 last year to allow the sale for extra fifteen days during the year when the elections are due in states and union territories.
The original electoral bonds scheme, 2017 is already pending in the Supreme Court and the next hearing is expected this week. The provisions of this 2017 Act have already been challenged by the legal experts and even the Election Commission has expressed doubts about some of the provisions. The lawyers who filed petition challenging the legality of the electoral bonds wanted a stay order on the further floating of the bonds , but this was rejected by the Supreme Court..
The bonds are available for purchase for a period of 10 days in the months of January, April, July and October. An additional 30 days window is allowed in the years of general elections. And now through the latest amendment, the centre allowed another tranche in November 2022 before the assembly polls in Himachal and Gujarat last year. The scheduled sale took place last from January 19 to 28 this year. In the July 2022 sale, donations through electoral bonds totalled Rs. 10,246 crore. The October 2022 figure of donations is not available yet but the data for 2020-21 financial year indicate that the BJP got 75percentof the total funds mobilised during the fiscal.
In the last five years since the electoral bonds sale started in January 2018, the BJP has spent thousands of crores of rupees in destabilising state governments in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and bought MLAs to form governments in Goa and Manipur. In Maharashtra, it was clear as daylight that huge funds – were mobilised to ensure the defection of the Eknath Shine group from the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray in July 2022.
Subsequently, the Shinde-BJP government was formed there. In all these moves to destabilize the opposition governments, the BJP made use of its huge available funds mobilised through corporate donations, electoral bonds money as also overseas donations. In Karnataka, the present BJP government is known as 40 percent govt as for all private contracts, the contractors have to pay the concerned BJP leaders 40 percent of the amount.
Similarly, five electoral trusts together disbursed 72 per cent of their total contributions of over Rs 481 crore to BJP in 2021-22 while the Congress shared a mere 3.8 per cent of the kitty.
The funding from the bonds or the poll trusts is all one way to BJP as the companies who donate do not want to antagonise the ruling party at the Centre and invite action through IT Dept, the CBI or the ED. It was apparent as the Bajaj family scion Rajeev Bajaj was apprehensive of attacks by the central agencies after his interaction with Rahul Gandhi.
This fear among the Indian corporates is so overwhelming that even the young scions of the industrial families who are forward looking and do not like the BJP, keep silent as they are not ready to risk the future of their companies just for the sake of some liberal personal thinking.
The net result is that there is no level playing field in the elections. The BJP is in a position to spend more than ten times money compared to the Opposition parties. It has a huge war chest to engineer defections when that is needed.
In the last nine years of Modi rule, there has been an unusual concentration of wealth in the Indian corporate sector. A recent study suggests that India’s twenty most profitable firms generated 14 per cent of the total corporate profits in 1990, 30 per cent in 2010 and 70 per cent in 2019.
This means that there was a steep jump in the concentration of wealth in a few corporate houses just during the first five years of Narendra Modi’s rule. This process must have got further accentuated in the last four years.
The Opposition parties have to focus on this quid pro quo between the Indian crony capitalists and the Modi regime and demand a probe into how the big corporates are funding the ruling party BJP as a part of this long-term arrangement. The latest amendment to the electoral bonds scheme is a part of that strategy of the BJP to cripple the opposition by denying them level playing field in the elections.
The Supreme Court will consider in its next hearing whether the challenge to the Union government’s 2018 scheme of introducing electoral bonds should be referred to a five-judge Constitution bench of the court. A division bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice P.S. Narasimha directed the listing of the matter on April 13 for the same purpose.
Union government sought time in its last hearing to file its counter affidavit. The bench was considering listing the matter on May 2 for final disposal. However, advocate Shadan Farasat, on behalf of one of the petitioners, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), submitted that the matter should be heard by a bench of five judges, owing to its impact on the democratic polity and funding of political parties.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave appearing for a NGO petitioner strongly objected to the government’s habit of delaying the submission of replies and urged the Court for urgent hearing in view of the Karnataka assembly poll. It is now up to the learned judges of the Supreme Court to take the decision taking into account the present state of Indian democracy. . It will be in the interest of the vibrant functioning of parliamentary democracy if the Supreme Court judges give an interim stay to the bonds scheme till the final disposal of the petition. (IPA Service)