All hush-hush about slush
By Poonam I Kaushish
Money makes the clogged, polluted and corrupt political mare go around, and how! In the on-going Great Indian Political Circus with polls due in NaMo’s Gujarat and Himachal Parties are busy ‘funding’ their vacuous promises. After all, what better time to hit the jackpot!
Unsurprisingly, the BJP is the richest Party with assets worth over Rs 893.88 crores in 2015-16, according to last week’s Association for Democratic Reforms report which analysed assets and liabilities of seven Parties on the basis of data submitted to the Election Commission from 2004-05 to 2015-16.
But the Party that hit gold is Mamata’s Trinimool’s whose wealth grew by 17,896% in these 11 years, followed by Mayawat’s BSP at 1,197% and Pawar’s NCP by 809%. The BJP came fourth with 627% growth. Only the CPM’s growth has been consistent over the period.
More. Alongside, Congress’s liabilities alarmingly went up by over 4,000%, Rs 8 crores in 2004-05 to Rs 329.43 crores by 2015-16. It is followed by the BJP whose burden grew to Rs 24.99 crores in 2015-16.
How? A Party is not a bank or a mutual fund which offers interest and good returns so why would anyone put his money on it? Or is it according to a preference for Parties and their ideologies? Are the donations altruistic? Certainly not, they are purely a business proposition, a quid pro quo. Is it political insurance? Yes.
Any wonder the donation cup overflows whenever a Party is in power at the Centre or States? The modus operandi is simple. A person helps a Party with funds and, in return, gets his job done. It is not for nothing that businessmen are known as king-makers and the power behind the throne, specially, a handful of top industrial houses which boast about their clout in the corridors of power.
A cursory glance of affidavits filed with the EC prior to polls revealed the bizarre realities of politics. It showcased significant contributions from several business houses that have directly benefited from the Party in power. A metal and mineral baron who had funded the BJP in 2000, became the proud owner of 51% of Bharat Aluminum Co Ltd (BALCO). By paying $121 million sparking off protests that it was undervaluated.
Perhaps taking a cue another steel magnate paid Rs 50 crores and was rewarded with highway construction contracts, ditto the case with a Delhi builder who funded the BJP. Yet, one more industrialist paid Rs 50 lakhs to the Congress in 2003 and within months was inducted into the Party. However, in the 2004 Lok Sabha poll he was one of the highest donors to the BJP even though he contested on Congress ticket and won. Truly, playing both ends against the middle.
More. Between 2004-5 and 2011, the BJP received Rs 952.5 crores from unknown sources and the then ruling Party Sonia’s Grand Dame garnered Rs 1,951 crore in its electoral war chest. Donations for 2003-04 showed how the fortunes of the ruling Party differed from the one out of power. While the Congress ‘officially’ received just Rs 2.81 crore, the BJP managed over Rs 11.69 crore. Money was paid through little-known trusts, or in some cases, directly by the business groups.
Most scandalously, presently Parties only report contributions above Rs 20,000 to the EC under law. No one knows where almost Rs 3675 crores came from. Think, between 2004-05 and 2011-12 a whopping total of Rs 4899 crores was the income of six national Parties. But less than a quarter of this money is accounted for.
This is not all. Britain’s Vedanta Resources and its Indian subsidiaries donated over Rs. 10.29 crores to the Congress and Rs 19.5 crores to the BJP in 2003-12. Topped by another Rs 28 crores in 2012-15. Investigating agencies while closely monitoring inward remittance to Parties through sham foreign investments found a sudden spike in West Bengal wherein foreign fund inflow has increased to around $1,788 million during 2013 as against $1,499 in 2012.
Believe it or not, only 11.89% of Congress’s total funding of Rs 774 crores and 22.76% of BJP income of Rs 426 crores in 2009-10 and 2010-11 came from donations above Rs 20,000, according to reports submitted to the EC. The BSP which got donations of Rs. 99 crores in 2009- 2011 said it received zero donations over Rs.20,000. Even the CPI (M) which claims to be morally on a higher plank than other Parties stated that just 1.29% of the money it got as donations in 2009-10 was in excess of Rs 20,000!
Clearly, underscoring the symbiotic and partly antagonistic relationship between industry and politics. Notwithstanding, over the years the Government has tried to bring in legislation to regulate Party funds, namely distribution and spending of Party funds during non-elections and elections. Getting them to maintain regular accounts and make audited accounts available for inspection. It even held out threats of de-recognition if parties filed false and incorrect election returns. But nothing worked. Even as poll costs continue to increase.
Sadly, there is brazen hypocrisy and humbug in what transpires under the framed rules. Today, a candidate spends over Rs.10 crore per election instead of Rs.25 lakhs allowed by the Law. Hypothetically, the minimum amount needed by each party for the 545 Lok Sabha seats would be Rs.5450 crore. Multiplied by 10 candidates per constituency, it adds up to a mind-boggling Rs.54,500 crore. Are we expected to believe that this amount will now be collected by cheques, only cheques?
True, over the years the Government has tried to bring in legislation to regulate Party funds, its distribution and spending during non-elections and elections. Getting them to maintain regular accounts and make audited accounts available for inspection. It even held out threats of de-recognition if Parties filed false and incorrect election returns. But nothing worked. Even as poll costs continue to increase.
What is the way out? In a milieu where are netagan have much to lose and the public everything to gain by a transparent funding system, unless one determines the sources that should be legally tapped for Party expenses there is little hope of minimizing the evil influence of vested interests.
One, donations should be evenly spread out, not necessarily equally, but perhaps in some proportion to seats in Parliament. Two, State funding of elections and funds be apportioned on votes basis secured by candidates. Three, amount be released to candidates, not Parties. Four, 50% given as advance pre-election on past performance basis.
Undeniably, Parties will continue to stonewall all efforts to come clean on funding. Hence irrespective of whether a Party is in power, donations must be made public as the aam janata has the right to know whether a Party’s stand on a policy is influenced by the source of its funding. Towards that end, there must be compulsory social audit of political funding by the EC or by a group of auditors shortlisted by the CAG.
In sum, given that Parties function as private limited companies, each with its own secret war chests we still have a long way to go before we can make elections honestly free and fair. The time has come for Parties to be publicly transparent about their financing and end ghooskhori. Else Modi’s tall talk of eradicating corruption will remain empty blabber! ——— INFA