Bonds of contention
Less than three months after foisting demonetisation on the public, apparently to flush out black money, the NDA government proposed the introduction of electoral bonds with the purported aim of cleansing the system of funding of political parties. In his 2017 Budget speech, then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley hoped that this reform would bring about greater transparency and accountability in electoral funding. He claimed that donors were reluctant to donate by cheque or other transparent methods as it would disclose their identity and entail adverse consequences. Under the scheme, the government has ostensibly offered complete anonymity to those making donations, be it individuals or organisations. A donor can buy a bond and deposit it with the political party of his or her choice.
From the outset, it seemed that this unilateral initiative did not have a leg to stand on. It was hard to fathom how creating a veil of secrecy could lead to transparency. A series of reports by a news portal, based on information procured under the RTI Act, has now revealed that the government overruled reservations expressed by the Reserve Bank of India and the Election Commission against the bonds. The reports have also given the lie to the government’s justification that bond donors had asked for a secret funding route due to fear of political vendetta.
Latching on to this expose, the Congress has accused the BJP of legitimising ‘government corruption’. The powers that be claim that all information about electoral bonds is in the public domain and can be accessed through the RTI Act. However, things are not all that crystal-clear and it’s a tall order to establish a link between the donor and the recipient. It’s no secret that the ruling party has the power to control the flow of information through official channels. There is a dire need to build political and institutional consensus on electoral bonds, which should ideally provide a level playing field. It’s also imperative to bring the bonds under the ambit of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) so as to facilitate an audit, preferably as independent as possible. The smokescreen has to go.