All eyes on SC as it hears plea to stay issuance of new tranche of electoral bonds on eve of assembly polls

Cash-rich BJP is likely to again benefit the most if electoral bonds go on sale on April 1 as it’s already spending huge funds on campaigning, destroying any level playing field in the election battle

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Nitya Chakraborty

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on March 24 the petition filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) to stop the sale of electoral bonds till the issue is decided by the apex court. This hearing, on the eve of the state assembly polls beginning on March 27, is of crucial importance to the national politics of the country as the next tranche of the bonds is expected for sale shortly.

While the petition has been pending in the Supreme Court, the BJP took full advantage of the earlier issuance of the electoral bonds to vastly strengthen its coffers which are being used now in the campaign for elections to the four states and one Union Territory. Reports so far indicate that the BJP is spending lavishly in the poll-bound areas and its organisational machinery is flush with funds. This means there is no level playing field in terms of mobilisation of resources and this is dangerous for the smooth functioning of a democracy

The financial muscle power of BJP is most manifest in the present campaigning in West Bengal which is getting maximum focus from the Sangh Parivar as a part of its bid to have ‘one party one nation’ programme. The party has launched a no holds barred campaign and defections are organised by allurements of both money and power. The central agencies are also being used to suit the political interests of the ruling party at the Centre.

At this juncture, the release of fresh electoral bonds on April 1 will only further enrich the BJP. Earlier, more than 90 per cent of the electoral bonds went to the BJP. The party is friendly with most of the corporates and it is in a position to operate on the basis of quid pro quo since it is in power at the Centre. This has led the big houses and the traders to look for BJP only.

Since the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, there has been a sea change in the manner of conducting elections. A political party can spend heavily on campaigning and social media has been playing a major role in influencing the opinion of the electorate. The expenditure limit of the candidates set by the election commission has become meaningless as a political party is free to spend huge amounts for campaigning. The BJP is taking maximum advantage of the present opportunity by spending huge funds for campaigning, destroying any level playing field in the election battle.

The government amended the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) by making it legal for foreign companies to donate to political parties through their subsidiaries in India. This helps the ruling party at the Centre the most.

Again, amendment were made in the Companies Act wherein the cap of 7.5 per cent of annual profits in the last three years which could be made by the companies as donation to political parties was removed. This also is helping BJP as the industrial houses depend on the BJP-run government for favours.

All the latest amendments in the Finance Act made after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister only helped the BJP in getting huge donations from the corporate houses and the foreign companies. The Income Tax Act was amended to ensure that the donor companies do have not to disclose details. The transparency in every form has been done away with.

The electoral bonds scheme was opposed by both the Election Commission and the RBI but the government ignored both and rushed it through. The Election Commission does not know the name of the donors but this is known to the issuer, the State Bank of India, and the government. It is a bizarre situation.

The Supreme Court, as the custodian of the Constitution, should not take this petition as an ordinary one, as it is of urgent importance for the sustenance of democracy in the country. It is a good sign that the court has agreed to hear the petition after a long gap, and one hopes that justice is done before the state assembly elections start. The learned judges have the solemn task of ensuring a level playing field.

(IPA service)

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