Whoever is worried about illicit funding elections in India – the mother of all black money – is keenly watching reiterations of the government to go after the sin money that has seeped into the political system. In India, as in poor and developing nations, politicians are seen to be high priests of black money and 'Yathaa raaja tathaa prajaa' dictum percolates right down to the grassroots politicians – all in connivance with corrupt and pliable babus.
India figures at 79th among 176 countries on the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International. Higher ranking implies less incidence of corruption and speaks of more independent press, greater right and access to information to keep tabs on government and sterner enforcement of anti-corruption regulations and independent judiciary. Indians need to feel strongly about whom they vest their political sovereignty with – right from Panchayat/Municipal ward member to Member of Parliament. BJP and Congress, which receive most of unaccounted money, shout from every pulpit about probity but do not follow it.
Although belated, Narendra Modi, who vowed to bring home black money stashed abroad, should strike at the root of immoral electoral funding. Parties invent all ingenious ways to cook their books, and seek tax sops. Only those donations in excess of Rs 2,000 (Rs 20,000 earlier) in cash are to be accounted for; so, the parties split donations below the figure to avoid taxmen. The Modi government must explain why in April last year it allowed donations to political parties from an Indian subsidiary of a foreign company, thus bypassing the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act which prohibits any foreign funding or donations to political parties.
Coming to electoral bonds, they will not bear the donor’s name. But the government claims donors will have to disclose about them in tax returns. Also, the 15-day period allowed with no bar on transactions in bonds in physical form gives room for change of hands. A foolproof roadmap is thus needed to be laid to clean up every political funding, besides mandating disclosure of how the funds are put to use by the parties right from the local body polls.
It is said that as much as 69% of income of political parties is from unknown sources. Transparency in political funding begins earnestly with disclosure of all types of funding to political parties. No leeway must any longer be given to political parties to evade public accountability by cocking a snook at the law of the land, which they seek to rule, by manipulating the elections.