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'BJP Has 6,000 Crores To Spend On Elections'

April 19, 2024 12:26 IST
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'Not even a single rupee from the electoral bonds should be allowed to be used in the election.'

'If it is used in the election, it will taint India's electoral process itself.'

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra D Modi addresses an election meeting in Rishikesh, April 11, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

From the time the Supreme Court directed the State Bank of India to put all the information regarding the electoral bonds in the public domain, activists and some media have been coming out with fresh shocking corruption scandals every day.

These are not just allegations against corrupt practices, there is solid evidence to show how the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party benefitted from the anonymous, non-transparent electoral bonds.

Retired IAS officer, Dr E A S Sarma has highlighted what is wrong with the electoral binds scheme.

Dr Sarma, an 1965 batch IAS officer, served in the Union finance and power ministries before he opted for voluntary retirement from the IAS in 2000 after differences with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

He is currently involved in "protecting the environment, promoting electoral reforms and safeguarding the livelihood opportunities of low-income groups in India, including the tribal groups".

"India's democracy has become a 'corporatocracy'! It's not by the people, of the people, for the people. It is by the corporates, of the corporates and for the corporates. All the laws are changed to please the corporates," Dr Sarma tells's Shobha Warrier.

IMAGE: A Communist Party of India-Marxist protest against electoral bonds outside an SBI branch in Chennai, March 6, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

You called the electoral bonds, 'Unholy Bond'. Is it because the bonds clearly show an unholy nexus between corporates and political parties?

Absolutely. It was in 2016-2017 that the present BJP government went headlong into a series of highly regressive legislative changes concerning corporate funding for political parties, knowing well that it was the BJP that would get undue gains from it with its position in power and with the clout it could use through its enforcement agencies

I and ADR (Association of Democratic Reforms) had filed a case in the Delhi high court in 2013 against foreign funding.

Just before the 2014 elections, the Delhi high court delivered an important judgment in which they upheld our contention that both the BJP and the Congress had violated the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and should be prosecuted under that Act.

Both the BJP and Congress went to the Supreme Court where their appeals were disallowed.

What the BJP-led NDA government did soon after that in 2016 was -- instead of prosecuting the two political parties -- retrospectively amended the FCRA Act since 1976.

The Companies Act of 2013 required that corporate donation should not be in excess of 7 and a half percent of the average profits of the company for the previous three years. They removed this ceiling too so that companies can donate any amount of money irrespective of whether they are profitable or loss-making ones.

In the same go, the NDA government, not satisfied with the above changes, introduced the infamous Electoral Bonds scheme in 2017, which ensured total non-transparency in donations to political parties.

So, just before the 2019 elections, the BJP opened the floodgates to corporate donations, including foreign donations, which is very dangerous from the national security point of view.

You should remember that companies do not give money for their love for democracy, they give it for a purpose which is to maximise their profit.

IMAGE: A Congress protest against the electoral bonds scheme outside the SBI branch in Patna, March 7, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

It is the BJP that has benefitted the most from electoral bonds...

Yes, the most important thing people should know in the case of the electoral bond scheme is, that its author is the BJP.

It is the BJP that is in a position, as the ruling party, to change laws and procedures to suit the corporates by way of quid pro quos.

It is the BJP that is in the position to deploy the ED, the CBI, and the income tax department to intimidate and exhort money from corporates.

Nirmala Sitharaman made a statement that none of the political parties can stand on a moral high ground because all received donations. She should know that the Left parties had objected to the bonds when it was introduced, and they did not accept any money through electoral bonds.

The fact is, the other political parties cannot change laws like the BJP as they are not in power.

The other political parties do not have ED, the CBI, etc to comply with them.

So, the fault entirely lies with the BJP.

In my view, you can call the electoral bond case a conspiracy by the BJP as they changed three laws deliberately in one go, and without much discussion in Parliament, all the above legislative changes were rushed through the backdoor of the Finance Act. They were cleverly visualised, designed and implemented by the BJP-led NDA government.

I call it the 'Unholy Bond' because it literally placed India's democracy at the disposal and control of big businesses.

In my view, there should be a complete ban on corporate donations because, the ruling party is at an advantage, and the other political parties are at a disadvantage. There is no level playing field.

IMAGE: AAP MP Sanjay Singh addresses the media about electoral bonds at AAP HQ in New Delhi, April 8, 2024. Photograph: Ishant/ANI Photo

Many people describe electoral bonds as the biggest corruption scandal independent India has seen. Do you agree with them?

Fully. No other government or political party went to this extent of completely opening the field for corporate donations.

There are many questions.

Did not the NDA government amend the Forest Conservation Act, the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, violate protective laws such as the PESA and Forest Rights Act applicable to the Scheduled Areas to dole out highly valuable mineral blocks to big businesses at the cost of public interest, by way of quid pro quos?

Electoral bonds donations taken from such businesses constitute outright corruption.

How did loss-making companies donate money to political parties, especially the BJP?

Where did they get the money?

Is it through money-laundering?

If the money trails are identified, the concerned political parties need to be proceeded against under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

There are several non-descript shell companies through which political parties, especially, the BJP, received donations.

How did such shell companies flourish? The corporate affairs minister admitted around 5-6 years ago that there was no definition of a 'shell company' in Indian laws and it would be desirable to incorporate such a definition.

Then the ministry deliberately allowed the legislative gap to persist, providing a convenient cover for both domestic and overseas shell companies to operate a shadow economy.

The ministry of finance -- department of economic affairs -- even issued instructions on overseas shell companies which effectively encouraged money-laundering.

The fact that the BJP received electoral bonds through such companies suggests a cover indirectly provided by it.

In my view, private corporate donations to political parties are not quite different from kickbacks.

They indirectly imply political corruption. They always give an undue advantage to the ruling party at the cost of the other political parties.

They facilitate splurging of money by political parties and increase the cost of electioneering placing the ordinary citizen inclined to contest in elections at a disadvantage.

They make a mockery of the ordinary voter with their money muscle.

Even after involved in a major corruption scandal of this size, the BJP is going after other political parties and political leaders. Do you think the BJP never expected the information regarding the electoral bonds to be in the public domain?

Yes. The BJP thought they would get away with this. They thought they were very clever.

Luckily, activists extracted information through the RTI Act on electoral bonds.

The Supreme Court of India intervened thanks to those who had gone to court for intervention.

Even after the Court's directive, they were reluctant to divulge the details. The SBI wanted time till June, till after the elections.

The public should know that, in violation of CPSE (Central Public Sector Enterprises) norms, the BJP has even put one of its representatives through the NDA government on the SBI board of directors.

So, the only people who had the information on electoral bonds were the BJP and the SBI. No other political party had any information. This shows how surreptitiously the BJP-led NDA government went about managing the scheme.

IMAGE: Chief Justice of India Dr D Y Chandrachud during a hearing on electoral bonds in the Supreme Court, March 15, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

If not for the Supreme Court directive, nobody would have known about the scam...

Yes. We all tried to get the information, but we could not.

The court proceedings took a long time. So, they passed an interim order. The court said, after the interim order, no party should use any bond-related money

Unfortunately, almost Rs 6,000 crores (Rs 60 billion) are lying with the BJP, which is perhaps not covered by the Supreme Court order, which the BJP is going spend on elections unless there is an immediate embargo on it.

Since the scheme itself has been held unconstitutional, every single rupee that is part of the electoral bond is tainted.

In my view, not even a single rupee from the electoral bonds should be allowed to be used in the election.

If it is used in the election, it will taint India's electoral process itself.

The Election Commission has a reservoir of power, and it has every authority to order the BJP not to spend the bond money that is lying with them. But the three election commissioners have chosen not to function independently.

Unfortunately, the public has lost trust in the institutions today. That's why I have requested the President of India to intervene. I mentioned in the letter that the public has lost trust and confidence in many institutions today.

Narendra Modi said those who criticise the electoral bonds would regret later...

India's democracy has become a 'corporatocracy'!

It's not by the people, of the people, for the people.

It is by the corporates, of the corporates and for the corporates.

All the laws are changed to please the corporates.

Suppose you look at the details of the donors of Electoral Bonds, you see that there are errant drug companies which by their unsafe units are killing their workers and spewing pollution all around, and endangering people's lives.

IMAGE: Dr E A S Sarma. Photograph: Kind courtesy Dr EAS Sarma

In the specific case of the Silkyara tunnel that collapsed in Uttarakhand a few months ago, endangering the lives of 41 workers, the contracting firm that gave a hefty electoral bond donation to the BJP, failed to construct an escape exit. At a meeting of the Union Cabinet, that company is reported to be condoned from being prosecuted for the lapse.

Is not the government, presumably for the reason that the BJP has benefitted from donations through electoral bonds, playing with the lives of the people?

One could therefore call such unholy bond donations as 'blood money'.

While presenting the draft of the Constitution of India to the Constituent Assembly, Dr Ambedkar expressed his apprehensions about the fate of India's newly acquired democracy. He said, however bad a Constitution happened to be, it could turn out to be good if it is operated by good people; however good a Constitution happened to be, it could turn out to be bad, if bad people operated it.

Today, political leaders use democratic means to come to power every five years, make a mockery of it during the next five years, submit themselves to corporate diktats, and once again talk of democracy when they face elections.

The electoral bonds scheme, read with the amendments to the Companies Act and the FCRA, all crafted cleverly by the BJP-led NDA government has been a culmination of an electoral corruption scam of a very large magnitude, which has hurt the national interest like never before.

It cut at the very roots of democracy.

It has subjugated the ruling political executive in particular, and all political parties in general to corporate dominance in governance.

IMAGE: Modi tries playing a traditional drum at an election meeting in Rishikesh, April 11, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Despite the scandal, the BJP and the prime minister say they will come back to power with more than 400 seats...

Any political party that plays with the lives of people cannot last long.

Political parties should respect the dignity of people.

Any political party that comes to power through questionable means think they are superior to the people of India. But they are wrong. People of India are sovereign.

They can probably mislead some people for some time, but they cannot mislead all the people, all the time.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

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