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SBI's Deadline for Electoral Bonds Details Ends Today. Here's Who Received the Most

Money that exchanged hands through electoral bonds has already funded two general election cycles and multiple state elections. 
A bowl with Indian currency coins. Photo: Sandeep Handa/Pixabay

New Delhi: The State Bank of India (SBI) has sought time till June 30 to submit details of electoral bonds encashed by political parties. The deadline is currently March 6.

The Supreme Court on February 15 said that the electoral bond scheme – brought in by the Narendra Modi government in 2017 – is unconstitutional and violates the right to information and Article 19(1)(a). However, the court took years to hear the petitions filed in 2017 and had earlier refused to stay this scheme, meaning that as recently as January this year, hundreds of crores worth of electoral bonds were sold by the State Bank of India.

So who benefitted from this scheme, and from the delayed decision from the court?

In total, including the latest tranche, Rs 16,518.11 crore electoral bonds have been sold by the State Bank of India so far.

Source: Association for Democratic Reforms

Of the total number of electoral bonds worth Rs 12,008 crore sold between 2017-2018 and 2022-2023, the BJP received nearly 55%, or Rs 6,564 crore, of the total number of electoral bonds (around Rs 12,000 crore) sold from 2017-2018 to 2022-2023.

Meanwhile, Congress received just 9.5% of all bonds sold in the five-year period at Rs 1,135 crore. The Trinamool Congress has received Rs 1,096 crore from electoral bonds in this same time period.

A recent report in The Hindu pointed out that as much as 54% of the BJP’s total income in the year 2022-23 came from electoral bonds – a whopping Rs 2,120.06 crore. During the six-year period between 2018 and 2023, more than 52% of BJP’s total donations came from electoral bonds worth Rs 5271.9751 crore, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms.

The Congress earned Rs 171 crore from electoral bonds in 2022-23.

Regional parties too have received large sums of money through electoral bonds. The Bharat Rashtra Samithi was the biggest recipient among them in 2022-23, receiving Rs 529 crore through this method. The TMC came in second, with Rs 329 crore through electoral bonds, followed by the BJD with Rs 152 crore and YSR Congress with Rs 52 crore. Four of these parties – excluding the BRS – had received larger sums of money through electoral bonds in 2021-22: Rs 528 crore for the TMC, Rs 306 crore for the DMK, Rs 291 crore for the BJD and Rs 60 crore for the YSR Congress.

The 2019 Lok Sabha elections – the first general election before which electoral bonds were sold – was the most expensive election the world had ever seen until that point, Bloomberg reported. About $8.7 billion was spent by political parties, more than double of what was spent for the 2014 elections.

Ever since they were first introduced, transparency rights activists have raised serious questions over the Modi government’s electoral bonds scheme – and also about the way in which it was brought in, including ignoring the concerns raised by the then Reserve Bank of India governor and without holding any sort of public consultation. Legal challenges to the law were filed almost immediately in the courts, saying this scheme threatened democracy by allowing anonymous donations and encouraging a quid pro quo relationship between political parties and big business. Now, nearly seven years later, the Supreme Court has validated all those concerns.

The court has ordered the State Bank of India to release details of all the electoral bonds purchased – thus removing the veil of secrecy over those who have donated hundreds of crores to India’s political parties. That money, however, has now already funded two general election cycles and multiple state elections.

Originally published on February 15, this article has been republished on March 6 in the light of SBI seeking more time to disclose details of electoral bonds encashed by political parties.

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