Clear the way

Allowing political parties to peddle black money into electoral politics stymies India's future

Bringing about transparency in fund flow from corporates to political parties is the biggest challenge for all stakeholders in Indian democracy. While we have been very exuberant about India’s journey over the last 70 years post-Independence, India’s political system continues to reek of opacity and the parties are unwilling to subject themselves to public scrutiny. It’s a shame that electoral reforms that got off to a good start during the tenure of TN Seshan as the 10th chief election commissioner between 1990-96 did not pick up pace for varied reasons.

After several high-powered committees submitted their recommendations, the political parties neither encouraged nor supported the commission’s repeated attempts to kick in transparency. National and regional political parties, without exception, lacked transparency in mobilisation of funds and sourcing, compiling  balance sheets, submission of accounts statements to the Election Commission.

Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) latest report provides a significant insight into the funding of top five national political parties that apparently received Rs 956.77 crore from the corporate world during last five years, i.e. 2012-16.

These figures put out by the Delhi-based think tank does not reflect the whole picture as the actual spending made by these political parties in five years including the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, polls in several state legislatures and a string of political campaigns in the interregnum has not been factored in. The money power visible in the 2014 general election has hitherto never been seen, ditto for the recent up state elections. Corporate contributions received by these large political parties would definitely be huge and much more than the figures sourced from these very political parties and compiled by the Association of Democratic Reforms.

Even if one were to consider Rs 5 crore conservative spending by all political parties together in each of the 543 constituencies, over Rs 2,700 crore would have been spent during the  Lok Sabha elections alone. If five national parties got Rs 956.77 crore as corporate contributions, then the big question remains the source of remaining funds?

Political parties claims before the election commission on the amounts reported by ADR ARE grossly inadequate. For instance, how does one believe that the Indian National Congress (INC) claim of receiving corporate contributions worth a mere Rs 198.16 crore from only 167 companies at a time when the party was in power at the centre till 2014. Even the funding for Bharatiya Janata Party at Rs 705.81 crore from 2987 corporate donors does not commensurate with the kind of spending the party resorted to during last Lok Sabha elections followed by the string of assembly polls in different states.

Most political parties have either under-reported receipt of funds or shown a major chunk of funding from party workers and individual supporters at Rs 20,000 each to beat the EC. And, its more than obvious that parties kept the identity of smaller donors under wraps. Real estate, bullion traders and retail sector that were major sources of cash and illegitimate businesses contributed big time to political parties that obviously went unreported. Most political parties off-the-cuff spending before, during and after the elections at Centre and states also seem to have conveniently been covered up. big corporate donors gave much more than what is shown.

Several proposals have of late been floated to bring about transparency in sourcing of funds by political parties and their leaders. This includes floating electoral bonds, compulsory reporting of cash donations of Rs 2,000 and even making it mandatory to link the parties donors with their accounts, Pan and Aadhaar cards as part of the reforms.

Apart from funding and spending, political parties resorting to unethical means to win elections by deploying every devious means does not augur well for Indian democracy. The latest instance of pre-election defections, herding MLAs and charges of huge funds changing hands during Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat smacks of the inadequacies in the political system. Former chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi’s concerns and push for comprehensive electoral reforms cannot be ignored. Allowing political parties to go scot-free by peddling black money into electoral politics stymies the future of Indian democracy.