Poonam I Kaushish
Paisa phenko tamasha dekho! The song hummed by every Party as five States go to polls next month. Which has paid put to Prime Minister Modi’s war cry of eradicating corruption. After all black is the favourite colour of money which are netas love and worship! Sic.
Raising a moot point: In a democracy based on equality for all why is kala dhan ok for our polity, not us? Can the State have double standards? Allow leaders to blithely accept black money as ‘donations’ to finance their campaigns and bribe voters, knowing it is the fountainhead of sleaze.
Think. According to Section 13A of the Income Tax Act Parties are exempt from declaring the source of a donation, scrutiny, tax and subsequent investigation if the deposited amount is below Rs 20,000 in their bank accounts. These include ‘income from house’, ‘income from other sources’ and voluntary contributions received from any person.
Naturally Parties happily use this lacuna to launder black money by putting it in their bank accounts and saying they got it (less than Rs 20,000) from small donors. Besides, it is not difficult to make backdated donation receipts. Shockingly, Parties of all shapes and colours, including those who tom-tomed swatchhtha and transparency got contributions worth over Rs 6,800 crores from “unknown” sources between 2004-05 and 2014-15. Read black money.
In fact, according to an Association for Democratic Reforms report the total financial performance of the Parties was over Rs 11,000 crores. Of this the ruling Congress netted Rs 4,000 crores or 83 per cent from faceless donors. The BJP followed with Rs 3,273 crores or 65 per cent from small donors.
Consequently, with its coffers filling up with small contributions, the seven national Parties (BJP, Congress, Trinamool, NCP, CPM, CPI and BSP) received a total of only Rs 102.2 crores from 1,744 donations above Rs 20,000 donations in 2015-16, compared to Rs 528.67 crores the previous year. Thereby, showing an 84 per cent dip in collection.
The ruling BJP declared Rs 76.85 crores as donation in 2015-16 against Rs 437.35 crores in 2014-15. The Congress got Rs 20.42 crores, CPM Rs 1.81 crores, CPI Rs 1.58 crores and the Trinamool got Rs 65 lakhs. More scandalous, the BSP which collected Rs 764 crores said they didn’t receive any donations over Rs 20,000 while the NCP showed the maximum decrease of 98 per cent in donations, declaring Rs 71 lakhs compared to Rs 38.82 crores in 2014-15.
Surprisingly, Kejriwal’s AAP which rode to success on the plank of eliminating corruption in political funding along-with the Left Brigade made hay by receiving 57 per cent of its Rs 110 crores funds from small donors. And the CPM 53 per cent of its total of Rs 893 crores in 11 years.
Pertinently, the report underscored that black money publicly runs through the veins of all Parties. Worse, it was impossible to declare whose contribution it was without first cleaning up the “number two” monopoly. “Is kale dhan ke hamam mein hum sab nange hain,” confessed a senior BJP leader.
Who will bell this fat cat of electoral corruption? The tragedy of India is none. Astonishingly, even as Modi purported notebandi was to end corruption, his Sarkar rejected an Election Commission proposal last month to give it permanent powers to cancel elections on credible evidence of abuse of money.
Earlier in March the Delhi High Court had wanted Parties to maintain proper audited accounts of income received through voluntary contributions. If this is not done, it warned, Parties could not claim exemption from paying income tax on these contributions. But it was water of a duck’s back with Parties continuing to ignore and play hard ball.
Primarily, because elections are perceived as a “rentier” profession, with huge post-poll rewards, to amass wealth for themselves, future elections and their Parties. Aren’t we accustomed to a corrupt and unaccountable polity who could stoop to anything for paisa and gaddi?
Any wonder the economics of running an election campaign are a hush-hush affair. Reportedly, over Rs 30,000 crores was spent by the Government, Parties and candidates in the 2014 general elections, the most expensive till date.
Like politics, elections have become a business — like businessmen our netas in the election business balk at the idea of controls and regulations. That is why no Party, however vocal about the matter while in opposition, has made a sincere attempt at stanching the flow of black money into the electoral arena.
Who will bell the fat corruption cat? One way is to prescribe a ceiling for Parties’ expenditure, like for candidates. Two, state funding of Parties (not polls) with independent audit and a ban on private donations, three, set up an Rs 5000 crores Government fund over five years for part funding of candidates spending. The election account of all candidates and Parties should be open to public to help remove public perception that through illegal donations business and the political class are promoting a quid pro quo.
Alongside the spending by recipient Parties should be equitable over constituencies so as to further democratize conduct of elections and attract more capable but less affluent persons to contest. Five, set up an independent national election fund where all tax-free donations could be made. It could be operated by the Election Commission or any other independent body.
The EC should be empowered to supervise all financial transactions by political bodies that have solicited or spent money to support or defeat candidates. Moreover, it should verify these and disclose the same to the public. This would be akin to the US set-up under the Federal Election Campaign Act 1974 which created an enforcement agency called the Federal Election Commission to do so. The EC would have full authority to oversee the inflow and outflow of political finance and institute legal action if scrutiny is stone-walled.
Moreover, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) Handbook 2003 in nearly 60 countries, including the US, UK, Japan, France, Germany and Thailand Parties are bound to disclose all contributions beyond a specified threshold. Unsurprisingly, India is not among them.
Further, there exists a ban on making anonymous donations to Parties in more than 45 countries. Obviously, India again is not among them even though it has a provision for public disclosure of expenditure by candidates but even so, there is no ceiling on party election expenditure – only candidates’ expenses. This leaves enormous scope for gargantuan indirect spending on elections so merrily admitted to by various leaders who brag about the crores spent on their elections against the stipulated limit of Rs 28 lakhs.
Arguably when we have a model code of conduct for elections why not a model code for political finance? All in all we need to remove clouds of opacity of political funding which would go a long way in enhancing public faith and demonstrating a concern for ethical standards.
Our netas and Parties need to collectively break loose from criminal elements, unaccounted and excessive money power and to remove illegitimacy from the power game. Our Prime Minister needs to white-wash black! Will our netas follow his dictum and like ‘Caesar’s wife be above suspicion’? (INFA)
Poonam I Kaushish