« Back to articlePrint this article

'Electoral Bonds Biggest Scam In India'

April 10, 2024 10:40 IST

'There is no scope for any doubt. This was a scheme designed to enrich the ruling party.'

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra D Modi at a roadshow for the Lok Sabha elections in Jabalpur, April 7, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

2014. The Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi campaigned against the Congress oarty that was then tainted by so many scams.

Come 2024. The very party that campaigned against corruption, and painted itself as clean, is facing one of the biggest corruption scandals independent India has seen -- the Electoral Bond Scam.

Will the Electoral Bond Scam have an impact in the coming Lok Sabha elections?

"The BJP may not have expected that all the bond information will be made public in the midst of the election campaign," Professor Zoya Hasan, Professor Emerita, Centre for Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, tells's Shobha Warrier.


Can the Electoral Bond scam develop into something that is as big as the Bofors scandal or the 2G scam, and unseat the ruling BJP?

Electoral bonds is one of the biggest political corruption scams in the world and certainly the biggest in Independent India.

It is a much bigger scam than the Bofors scam. In the past, several corruption cases, including the Bofors and 2-G spectrum were based on unproven allegations, but electoral bonds is an example of legalised corruption.

The significance of this scandal is that it is based on evidence. Data analysis has connected the dots.

In this case, two broad trends have emerged from the revelations.

One, a quid pro quo arrangement between the purchasers and recipients of electoral bonds and manipulation of policies based on quid pro quo.

Two, investigations show that in many cases electoral bonds were taken after Enforcement Directorate raids and the corruption cases were buried thereafter.

And the evidence is in the public domain...

Exactly. There is no scope for any doubt now. This was a scheme designed to enrich the ruling party.

Several civil society and rights groups were saying from the start that this is a non-transparent, undemocratic method of funding, and this is not the way to fund elections. Still the government went ahead.

The Supreme Court declared it as unconstitutional, even though the verdict came six years late.

All the objections that are now accepted were articulated in petitions filed in 2018, but the Court refused to stay the scheme. This enabled the BJP to accumulate huge sums of money.

But eventually the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, and what is more the Court insisted that the information available with the State Bank of India must be made public.

Even social activists campaigning against the scheme didn't expect that the Court will ask the State Bank of India to submit the full electoral bond details to the Election Commission of India.

Public can access information to match purchasers of the bonds with the parties that redeemed those bonds.

This is official data, and it is not someone making allegations in an election campaign speech or press conferences and so on.

That's what has changed the game.

The electoral bonds is a live issue in the public domain, the media continues to expose electoral bonds issues.

Data analysis has uncovered the backdoor linkages between the ruling party and select corporates.

Several of the biggest bond donors are under investigation by central agencies.

Raids by the ED are purportedly linked to donations to the BJP given out of fear or threat or the promise of lucrative commercial contracts.

Will this have an impact on the elections?

It will have an impact if the Opposition parties take this issue to the people.

Opposition parties have to publicise the issue in the way V P Singh had campaigned on the Bofors scandal after he left the Congress in 1989.

In almost every major election speech, he would take out a piece of paper from his pocket and read out the bribe amount or the money that changed hands.

IMAGE: The INDIA alliance rally at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi. Photograph: Amit Sharma/ANI Photo

Do you see the Supreme Court asking the State Bank of India to come out with all the information on the electoral bond as the turning point?

The Supreme Court verdict on the electoral bond is a pivotal moment in the 2024 election. This issue goes far deeper than the problems of campaign finance.

As the Court said in its judgment, electoral bonds can lead to quid pro quo arrangements between donors and parties, which can undermine electoral democracy and governance.

It has unlevelled the playing field because of the immense scale of financial power at the disposal of one party, compared to other parties.

Disparity in access to funds can create political inequality, which affects electoral democracy by tilting public policy towards the interests of the super-rich, ignoring the interests of the majority, particularly the poor and the vulnerable.

The State Bank of India, most probably under orders from the government, asked for more than three months' time that is after the elections to make all the information public...

The SBI was very reluctant to part with the information. The SBI after much dithering and dilly dallying submitted electoral bond details to the ECI which it has uploaded on its Web site.

What is interesting is that the SBI had pleaded in the Supreme Court that they needed more than three months to compile and publish the data.

But when the Supreme Court insisted, they made the information public in 24 hours.

This is an indication of political pressure institutions face from the Executive.

Both the RBI and the Election Commission of India had expressed reservations on the electoral bonds scheme when it was introduced.

But they modified their stand and went along with the government.

Three major institutions -- the RBI, the ECI and the SBI -- had fallen in line with the official stand.

This is why we need to have independent institutions that safeguard citizens' rights and democracy.

IMAGE: BJP leader Amit A Shah during a roadshow for the Lok Sabha elections in Ramanagara, Karnataka, April 2, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Another scam that is brewing is the PM Cares fund. Nobody knows where the money has gone. Do you think this also will develop into something big?

Yes, the PM Cares is another scheme that is shrouded in secrecy.

The PM Cares has been surrounded by controversy precisely because of its avoidance of public scrutiny.

There is no transparency in this scheme. The Right to Information does not apply to it, so we don't have information about the functioning of the scheme.

The PMO told the Delhi high court that PM Cares is not a public authority.

It is not controlled by the Government of India but government and university staff were asked to donate to the PM Cares during the COVID-19 pandemic. Public sector companies contributed to it.

It is time the Court took cognisance of this.

IMAGE: BJP supporters during Modi's election meeting for the Lok Sabha polls in Nawada, Bihar, April 7, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

From the beginning, the perception Narendra Modi created was that of a clean image of himself and his party while painting the Congress as the most corrupt party.
Do you think with the Electoral Bond scam, that perception may change?

The perception will change because the Supreme Court has declared the electoral bond scheme as unconstitutional.

It has dented the ruling party's moral authority and clean image as it calls into question its anti-corruption plank and its constant attempts to paint the entire Opposition as corrupt, particularly the Congress.

But the Union government is still going after the Opposition on this issue and not investigating skeletons in its own cupboard.

The arrests of two Opposition chief ministers during elections exemplifies this.

The Supreme Court has granted bail to an Opposition Rajya Sabha MP implicated in the same alleged corruption case as the Delhi chief minister due to the absence of a money trail being found to support the arrest.

This too will dilute the anti-corruption campaign against the Opposition.

On the other hand, there is money trail in the electoral bonds case but there's no investigation of these cases.

The washing machine metaphor used by the Opposition parties is catching up because the ruling party is brazenly welcoming politicians from different parties, many of whom were condemned as corrupt by them.

The game plan is clear -- cripple the Opposition forces through a variety of methods ranging from arrest of their leaders on corruption charges to freezing accounts of a party during election period.

This hampers the ability of the Opposition to campaign in the election and this gives rise to questions about a level playing field.

Do you think Modi and the BJP are a bit rattled after the Electoral Bond Scam came out in the public domain?

Yes, it seems the electoral bonds verdict has shaken them. The letter written by 600 lawyers to the Chief Justice of India is an indication of this.

They may not have expected that all the bond information will be made public in the midst of the election campaign.

People can see the direct connection between bond donors and receivers and many of the donations being given under pressure of central agencies.

IMAGE: Aam Aadmi Party MP Sanjay Singh addresses a day-long fast being held against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's arrest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, April 7, 2024. Photograph: Amit Sharma/ANI Photo

Can corruption be a major issue in this election?

Corruption remains an important issue in Indian politics. Governments have been brought down on corruption. Rajiv Gandhi's government was defeated in 1989 on the Bofors scandal.

Then the UPA government was defeated in 2014 on the 2G scam. Even in 1977, the Jayaprakash Narayan movement was against corruption.

Ever since 2014, the BJP has not stopped talking about corruption.

Now, for the first time, they find themselves cornered on the issue of corruption after the Supreme Court verdict.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that it was because of the electoral bonds scheme that a money trail can be established, and those who are 'dancing' over the issue will regret it.

But his government blocked information. It argued in the Supreme Court that citizens have no fundamental right to know (external link) the sources of the funding of political parties (external link) and ruled out providing any information to the public regarding corporate or individual donations to parties on grounds of safeguarding the privacy of donors.

Electoral bonds are just tip of the iceberg as far as money power in politics is concerned.

The BJP received Rs 8,252 crore (Rs 82.52 billion) of the total Rs 16,492 crore (Rs 164.92 billion) redeemed through bonds which is half of the total bonds issued since 2018.

Information on electoral bonds from 2018-2019 has not been revealed, however, data analysts have found that 95% of the electoral bonds went to the BJP.

Electoral bonds have not stopped cash flow to political parties. There is still huge cash going to parties.

The BJP is said to have received nearly Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 50 billion) of 7,726 non-electoral bond donations given to parties between 2013 and 2023.

The scheme is called electoral bonds. That's a misnomer because the money is not necessarily spent only on elections.

Electoral bonds are going to parties, which they are using for setting up party offices, travel, advertisements in newspapers, television and billboards etc.

That said, there is no doubt that election and party funding in India need reform. There are serious problems with election funding in India, which is wholly private and largely unregulated.

But this opaque scheme was no solution to it. In fact, it has exacerbated the problem.

IMAGE: Prof Zoya Hasan

When Modi himself is giving guarantee to various government schemes, will corruption of this magnitude shock people?

It should. It will not shock the committed voters of the BJP, but there are many others who will be wondering about the legitimacy of the BJP's unremitting anti-corruption campaign.

We must remember in this context that India is now one of the most unequal countries in the world.

22.6% of national income in 2022-2023 went to the top 1% which is the highest proportion in the last 100 years.

Wealth inequality is even greater, the share of the top 1% in wealth was as high as 40.1% in 2022-2023.

If despite evidence of such massive inequalities, corruption, unemployment, inflation, and gaps in access to education and healthcare, people continue to vote for the incumbent government, then they are voting for some other reasons, which go beyond governance and development.

These are non-economic reasons which relates to Hindutva which is a major factor in the Hindi speaking states.

The BJP has won the bulk of its seats from these states in the last two elections.

Ayodhya is their trump card. The Ram temple was inaugurated in January to impact the 2024 elections, but we don't know if it will have an impact outside Hindi speaking states, it is not clear what impact it will have even in the Hindi heartland. That needs to be examined.

There is a complex interplay between Hindutva politics and the promise of prosperity in the underdeveloped regions of the country.

And that may explain why people choose not to be shocked by something as big as the Electoral Bond Scam in those parts.

If Modi were to come back...

If this government is re-elected, it would change the character of India. It would pose a risk to democracy and the Constitution.

That would be very unfortunate because the Constitution is the very foundation of democracy and of equal rights in our country.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/