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Archive for the ‘Election Commission’ Category

The Electoral Bonds scheme, notified by the Union Government on January 2, is a clever step towards emaciating the opposition parties. Neither will it lead to greater transparency in the funding of political parties (as claimed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley) nor will it check the flow of black money into the electoral process. Even Election Commission has expressed apprehensions at the move. The scheme was mischievously included in the 2017-2018 budget proposals.

According to the notification, only the State Bank of India (SBI) can issue the Electoral Bonds  in the denominations of Rs 1000, Rs 10,000, Rs one lakh, Rs ten lakh and Rs one crore. A total of 53 branches of SBI have been authorised to sell the Bonds – one branch in the capitals of all the States and Union Territories – more than one branch in some States. An individual or body can purchase these Bonds from the designated branches after fulfilling the KYC (Know Your Customer) requirements. However, the Bonds will not carry the name of the purchaser.

The byer can donate these Bonds to a political party which is registered with the Election Commission and has received not less than one per cent of the votes in the last Lok Sabha or Assembly election. The party can encash the Bonds only by depositing these in its bank, registered with Election Commission, within 15 days after the issuance of the Bond. If not deposited within 15 days, the amount of the Bond will go to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund.

Jaitley told Lok Sabha on January 2 that ‘the element of transparency is that the balance sheet of donors will reflect that they have bought a certain amount of Bonds and political parties will also file their returns (with the Election Commission) that will reflect the extent of Electoral Bonds received.’ The Finance Minister also said that ‘political funding needs to be cleansed up. A very large part of donation coming to political parties by the donors, quantum and source is not known….Electoral Bonds (will) substantially cleanse the system.’

The Election Commission was not amused when Jaitley had announced the Electoral Bonds scheme in his budget proposals. Its objection mainly was that it might lead to the use of black money in electoral politics. In his keynote address at a conference of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) some time back, Election Commissioner O P Rawat observed that ‘the recent amendments in the election and income tax laws make it clear that any donation received by a political party through an Electoral Bond has been taken out of the ambit of reporting in the Contribution Report which political parties have to submit to the EC. Implications of this step can be retrograde as far as transparency is concerned. Furthermore, where contributions received through Electoral Bonds are not reported, a perusal of contributions reports will not make it clear whether the party in question has taken any donations in violation of Section 298 of the Representation of the People Act, which prohibits political parties from taking donations from Government companies and foreign sources.’

Election Commission had expressed the apprehension that abolition of relevant provisions of the Companies Act of removing a cap of 7.5 per cent of profit for political donations can lead to money laundering by setting up of shell companies for diverting funds for donations to political parties.

The January 2 notification says: ‘the information furnished by the buyer (of Electoral Bonds) shall be treated confidential by the authorised bank and shall not be disclosed to any authority for any purposes, except when demanded by a competent court or upon registration of a criminal case by any law enforcement agency.’

That, of course, is the official position. Unofficially, the SBI is all but part of Finance Ministry. In the corruption-ridden system that we have, an unscrupulous Finance Minister can always get the information as to who purchased Electoral Bonds of what amounts and to  which parties’ accounts have these been credited. Next is carrots and sticks approach. 

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Election Commissioner O P Rawat surprised his admirers and detractors alike by his outburst at the blatant use of money and misuse of government machinery in the elections.  This was not the Rawat I had known from his days in Madhya Pradesh, where he served in various important positions in the government; he was never known to speak publicly, and that too, in a harsh language, about what he was thinking on an issue. His detractors had, in fact, dubbed him as a ‘ghunna’ (one who keeps his strong feelings about something or somebody within himself).

That even Rawat should have lost his calm can only mean that the electoral process has reached such a low as to require immediate drastic measures to keep the people’s faith intact in the elections. Democracy thrives, Rawat observed, ‘when elections are free, fair and transparent’. Rawat shared his distress in his keynote address at the consultation on electoral and political reforms organised by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) in New Delhi in August.

He said, ‘it has come to the notice of the (Election) Commission that paid operators run by PR firms are being actively deployed to shape public opinion online. It appears to a cynical common man that we have been scripting a narrative that places maximum premium on winning at all costs to the total exclusion of ethical considerations. In this narrative, poaching of legislators is extolled as small political management; strategic introduction of money for allurement, tough-minded use of State machinery for intimidation, etc, are all commended as resourcefulness’.

He said, ‘the winner can commit no sin; a defector crossing over to the ruling camp stands cleansed of all the guilt as also possible criminality. It is this creeping new normal of political morality that should be the target for exemplary action by all political parties, politicians, media, civil society organisations, constitutional authorities and all those having faith in democratic polity for better election, a better tomorrow’.

Rawat pointed out that ‘although money was necessary for political parties and candidates, experience has shown that there is a real and present risk that some parties and candidates, once in office, will be more responsive to the interests of a particular group of donors rather than to wider public interest. Policy capture occurs when the interests of a narrow group dominate those of other stakeholders to the benefit of that narrow group’.

Referring to the Election Commission’s objection to the Electoral Bonds introduced by the government, he observed that it might lead to the use of black money in electoral politics. Rawat said, ‘the recent amendments in the election and income tax laws make it clear that any donation received by a political party through an Electoral Bond has been taken out of ambit of reporting in the Contribution Report which political parties have to submit to the EC. Implications of this step can be retrograde as far as transparency is concerned. Furthermore, where contributions received through Electoral Bonds are not reported, a perusal of contribution reports will not make it clear whether the party in question has taken any donations in violation of Section 29B of the Representation of the People Act, which prohibits political parties from taking donations from government companies and foreign sources’.

Amit Shah reacts

The Election Commission had, he said, expressed apprehension that the abolition of relevant provisions of the Companies Act of removing a cap of 7.5 per cent of profit for political donations can lead to money laundering ‘by setting up of shell companies for diverting funds for donations to political parties.

Rawat’s plain speaking came apparently in the light of the developments during the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections in which blatant use of money, government machinery and intimidation was witnessed. BJP president Amit Shah was hailed as the ‘manager’ of the election strategy.

Shah did not take note of Rawat’s speech at ADR event directly. But he reacted to Rawat’s observations in his own way. During his three-day visit to Bhopal a few days later, he opted to have his lunch at the house of Narottam Mishra to the exclusion of all other party leaders. Narottam Mishra, Minister of Public Relations, Legislative Affairs and Water Resources in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, is on a stay after he was found guilty of ‘paid news’ by the Election Commission in June and disqualified as well as barred from contesting elections for three years. The stay against the Election Commission’s order did not come to him easily. His prayer for a stay was rejected by the Gwalior bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court, by a single bench of Delhi High Court (where the matter was transferred by the Supreme Court), by a division bench of Delhi High Court where he had appealed against the single bench order. He then went to the Supreme Court which returned his appeal to the Delhi High Court. Eventually a division bench of Delhi High Court granted him stay.

Shah was later reported to have told party men that the BJP had to win all the 29 Lok Sabha seats in Madhya Pradesh anyhow in 2019. He was said to have particularly named Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia who, he said, had to be defeated ‘at any cost’. His reported advice to the members of the cabinet: Never do any work of Congressmen, make them uncomfortable and lure them to the BJP.


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Outright Perilous!

An egoist as the head of the government is bad enough. An egotist is a nuisance as his constant chant of I…, I…., I….. jars on the listeners’ years. But when he loses touch with the reality and starts believing his imaginary achievements to be his real achievements, that’s outright perilous.

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