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Electoral Bonds: Opposition Hails Supreme Court Order Striking Down ‘Medium of Taking Bribes’

The BJP on the other hand has said that while it respects the Supreme Court’s order, the scheme was brought in to bring “transparency” in electoral funding.
Photos: X and screenshot from video.

New Delhi: Opposition parties have hailed the Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday (February 15) striking down the electoral bonds scheme and hit out at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for using the scheme as a means of “taking bribes” from voters, while the saffron party has said that the scheme was meant to bring transparency in electoral funding.

The electoral bonds scheme was brought by the Narendra Modi government early in 2018. Through it, companies and individuals in India can make anonymous donations to political parties.

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi said in a statement that the apex court’s order is “proof” of the Narendra Modi government’s corrupt policies.

“Another proof of Narendra Modi’s corrupt policies is in front of you. [The] BJP had made electoral bonds a medium for taking bribes and [commissions]. Today this matter has been sealed,” Gandhi wrote in Hindi on X (formerly Twitter).

Addressing a press conference in the national capital, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said that when electoral bonds were first introduced, the Modi government, including then-finance minister Arun Jaitley, “repeatedly defended an unconstitutional decision of introducing the electoral bonds, subverting the reservations of the RBI, Election Commission, Parliament of India, Opposition, and the people of India.”

“Now that the massive corrupt mechanism by the Modi government has been exposed by the Supreme Court itself, will the Modi government now send the ED [Enforcement Directorate] to probe the electoral bonds scam?” he asked.

While declaring the scheme unconstitutional, the Supreme Court held it violative of the right to information and Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution.

It also asked the State Bank of India (SBI) to furnish to the Election Commission of India (EC) the details of donations through electoral bonds – which would presumably include that of donors – and the details of the political parties that received the contributions.

Among those that challenged the scheme in the apex court are Congress leader Jaya Thakur, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the non-governmental Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

In a statement, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said that the party had called the scheme “opaque and undemocratic” when it was launched.

“We welcome the decision of the Supreme Court today, which has struck down this ‘Black Money Conversion’ scheme of the Modi Govt, calling it ‘Unconstitutional’,” he said.

“We remember how the Modi Govt, PMO [Prime Minister’s Office] and FM [finance minister] bulldozed every institution – RBI, Election Commission, Parliament and Opposition to fill [the] BJP’s coffers. No wonder 95% of the funding under this scheme was received by BJP.”

The lack of transparency in the funding of political parties, amplified with the introduction of the electoral bonds scheme, has been a point of contention between opposition parties and activists on the one hand and the government on the other.

According to a report by the ADR, which was also one of the petitioners in the case, the BJP received nearly 90% of all corporate donations in the financial year 2022-23.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has also welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, calling it important in the interest of democracy and transparency.

“It is very important for democracy to have transparency as to who is donating to which political party. It is a matter of happiness that the Supreme Court has asked the [EC] to immediately tell which party got [donations] from where and how many electoral bonds,” said Delhi minister and AAP MLA Atishi.

“Every citizen has the right to know whether the party in power at the Centre or in the state is taking decisions for the voters or for the donors.”

Also read | ‘Part of Secret Ballot’: How the Modi Govt Backed Electoral Bonds in the Supreme Court

The politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which was also a petitioner in the case, said that as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday, “this unscrupulous scheme designed to finance the ruling party by anonymous corporate donors has been completely scrapped”.

The party had said “at the outset” that it would not accept electoral bonds on the grounds that they ‘legalise corruption’, its statement added.

“It is essential now that reforms for political and electoral funding are introduced to ensure transparency, clean funding and a level playing field,” it continued to say.

Trinamool Congress (TMC) spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Saket Gokhale said to The Wire that it is a “very welcome order” as “electoral bonds brought in opaque political funding contrary to the BJP government’s claims of transparency.”

Gokhale said that the Supreme Court holding that the scheme violates the right to information is the biggest win in its order.

“While the BJP could see who was donating what amount to through its access to the SBI and Income Tax department, the general public could not.”

However, data from political parties show that not just the BJP, but almost all political parties have relied heavily on electoral bonds for their funding in recent years.

A report by the ADR said that while other national political parties reported a combined corporate donation of nearly Rs 70 crore, the BJP received Rs 610.491 crore from the sector.

In addition, the ADR report also highlighted that of the total donations declared by the national parties for 2022-23 (Rs 850.438 crore), Rs 719.858 crore went to the BJP alone.

According to the annual audit report of the BJP made public by the EC, the BJP received Rs 1,294.14 crore through electoral bonds in 2022-23, which was nearly 54% of its total income during the year, and seven times higher than that of its main rival, the Congress party, The Hindu reported.

Also read: Electoral Bonds Are Illegal Now. But Who Benefitted for the 6+ Years They Lasted?

Five regional parties, including the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), the TMC, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the YSR Congress Party (YSCRP) together received Rs 1,243 crore through electoral bonds in 2022-23 according to annual audit reports, reported the Times of India.

Individually, electoral bonds contributed to 97% of the TMC’s, 86% of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s, 84% of the BJD’s, 70% of the YSRCP’s and 71% of the BRS’s total receipts in 2022-23.

Gokhale said that while all political parties benefitted from the electoral bonds scheme, the percentile numbers cannot be compared.

“This is a system that is legally put in place, parties cannot tell donors to contribute in this way. We did not bring this policy. Contributing through electoral bonds, is the choice of the donor. But at no point have we supported the electoral bonds scheme right from the beginning. If the option hadn’t been given by the BJP, then donors would use regular means as they were before electoral bonds,” he said.

‘Even donors wanted secrecy’: BJP

Meanwhile, the BJP has sought to downplay the judgement.

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday evening, former Union minister and BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the electoral bonds scheme was brought in to bring in transparency.

“The electoral bonds scheme was brought in for a very laudable objective – to bring in transparency in electoral funding, and to reduce the inflow of cash during elections. Even the donors wanted secrecy,” he said.

Hitting back at the Congress, Prasad said that “the Congress has allegedly said that it was a means for taking bribes – those whose DNA is made of corruption, please don’t make allegations against the BJP. Those who talk about level playing fields are those who are often not even in the playing field in elections and are unable to win even one seat.”

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