Transparency critical

Election Funding

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

The Supreme Court recently directed all political parties to reveal donations they had received in electoral bonds and the identities of the donors to the Election Commission in a sealed cover by end of May. Obviously, this is a right step aimed at bringing transparency to the system of anonymous poll funding. It aptly pointed out that if the identity of the buyers of electoral bonds remained unknown, the government’s efforts to curtail black money would be futile. An NGO, the Association of Democratic Reforms, had moved a petition challenging the validity of electoral bonds
It is indeed surprising that the government, which had declared its intent to curb black money is unwilling to disclose the names of the donors. Black money operating in the system is well known and the nexus between business houses and political parties has been the cause of such money increasing day by day. It is indeed tragic that the judiciary has to intervene even in such matters to remind the government of the need for transparency.
Close on the heels of this order, it has come to light that as on December 13, 2018, regional political parties like the BSP, which scored a blank in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, had Rs 669 crore deposited in eight accounts of public sector banks in the National Capital Region. It was followed by the SP, which won very few seats, with Rs 471 crore in bank accounts. How can these parties marshal such huge amounts and from where does this money come from? Do the common people give them money or does it from corporate houses?
There is no reason to believe that the present elections are fought with clean money. While business houses fund election campaigns of major parties, mostly through unofficial sources, a very small amount is realised from party members. The rising cost of poll funding is a signal that, whichever party may come to power, costs would increase after the elections. This is obviously because the interests of those business groups who funded the elections have to be recovered and/or they have to be helped financially.
According to political analysts, India’s elections this time may cost anything between $8 to $ 10 billion or between Rs 60,000 to Rs 70,000 crore, much more than the spending in the US elections. The costs have been increasing as in some rural and semi-urban constituencies, votes are purchased in lieu of cash or other gifts like cycles, saris to women, watches etc. The poor villagers who are not educated enough to evaluate performances and vote accordingly, prefer to give their votes to whoever gives them something in cash or kind.
State funding of elections has been an option but there has not been any progress so far as none of the major political parties have evinced interest in the matter. The reason for this is because the rich and powerful leaders spend far in excess of permissible limits and resort to unethical manner in garnering votes. The whole system is becoming more and more corrupt.
Political leaders talk about our democratic tradition but actually the elections are somewhat a farce. It has been found that those who contest elections under the banner of major political parties belong to the rich class and come from business backgrounds. This is authenticated by the fact that 80 per cent of this Lok Sabha members declared assets worth Rs 1 crore and above. Moreover out of this, more than 50 per cent’s assets were well over Rs 6-7 crore. It can easily be stated that a person who declares his or her assets at Rs 5 crore should actually have various types of assets whose actual market value may be not less than Rs 12-15 crore.
The reason why unscrupulous people stand in elections is either because of their muscle power or financial power. Very few clean and educated stand in elections and just a handful may get elected by god’s grace. Statistics reveal that a large section, may be over 50 per cent of the elected members, have criminal cases against them.
A not very recent trend is to nominate film actors or actresses to Parliament and even in Assemblies seats. The only reason to nominate them is because they have enough financial resources though they may not have any background of doing social and political work. Moreover, dramatics is resorted to by our political leaders for garnering votes as they have virtually no answer to economic problems facing the country. In today’s world dedicated work for the community or society is no indicator of being selected as a candidate.
Only among the communist parties is there some sort of transparency. While their leaders mostly come from low middle class backgrounds, their lifestyles are simple. However, the money power that is ruling the elections in the last 2-3 decades has been a barrier to their success in elections.
How can this state of things change? There has been a clamour and some political parties have given over 25-30 per cent Lok Sabha to women. But there is no demand to reserve seats for the rural poor – the small or marginal farmers, the tribals and the dalits. Why shouldn’t there be reservation for the poor and the backward sections of society?
If there is no reservation for this vast majority – around 40 per cent of our population – how will their genuine demands fructify? How will development aimed at this section be identified and carried out judiciously? The reason for lopsided development with focus on cities and projects aimed at the rich and upper middle sections has been due to the neglect of this section and their demands not being heard and considered.
The composition of a Lok Sabha is vital for proper policies being formulated to take the country forward. The outlook of its members, their education and dedication for a cause can develop the country on the right lines. What we are witnessing during the campaigns are speeches by leaders dragging in religion, military or achievements of scientists, which do not qualify for rational behaviour. It is indeed distressing that the Election Commission had to bar four senior leaders, including one Chief Minister and one former Chief Minister from campaigning for a few days due to ‘derogatory’ or provocative remarks.
Thus the way campaigning is going on does not augur well for the country. There is very little talk of the problems and challenges being faced by the country and the right strategy to take the country out. Keeping in view the current developments, one is provoked to question whether the leaders, who may be elected, are at all capable to rule the country in a judicious and transparent manner? —INFA