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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 7 February 17, 2024

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Feb 17, 2024

Saturday 17 February 2024


Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, February 17, 2024

The news of the Supreme Court of India striking down the Electoral Bonds Scheme (EBS) has been widely welcomed as good for democracy and for transparency of funding of political parties. The not-for-profit entity Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) were petitioners who had challenged the EBS — had maintained that electoral bonds were the "legalisation of political corruption” have done great service by contesting an opaque government scheme. The CPI(M) stands out as an exemplar as the only political party party in India that didn’t accept donations via the EBS route. The Modi led BJP government brought in the Electoral Bonds scheme in 2018, soi-disant to prevent black money in elections, despite the Election Commission [1] or the Reserve Bank of India [2] not being in favour of the scheme which permitted receiving anonymous donations. The ruling BJP has been the biggest benifeciary [3] of EBS in terms of volume of funds from donors from business world, compared to all other political parties. The BJP managed to mass billions and used resources on a gigantic scale splurging the funds for publicity and media, giving it overwhelming dominance. According to Election Commission data, 28,030 electoral bonds worth Rs 16,437.63 crore were sold between 2016 and 2022, with the BJP getting over Rs 10,000 crore from that amount. The Supreme court took a long seven years before a constitution bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud’s judgment in ADR v. Union of India declared the Electoral Bonds scheme as unconstitutional on the grounds that it violates the citizens’ right to information [4], [5] [6]. The Chief Justice has directed the State Bank of India to stop issuing electoral bonds with immediate effect and provide details of donations made through this mode to the Election Commission of India. The Election Commission has been asked to publish this information on its website by March 13. The BJP government is defending the EBS and is in a damage control mode and pro-BJP commentators are saying that the banking laws of the country will not permit the names of businesses that purchased the electoral bonds to be revealed. Given the scale of the arrogance of power that is so widely visible in the ruling BJP, there are fears that the Modi Government may try to bypass the Supreme Court ruling by bringing in an ordinance re-introducing the Electoral bonds scheme with some changes. The Modi Government continues its crackdown on select NGOs (canceling their FCRA permissions to receive foreign funds) and also on the political opposition just weeks before the dates of the 2024 general elections are announced. The Government has frozen the bank accounts of India’s main opposition force the Congress Party and also of its youth wing, through the income tax department [7]. The Congress party has sounded alarm bells and is apparently approaching an appellate tribunal to unfreeze its funds so that it is not handicapped during its election campaign. Before this, other opposition parties have been in trouble, the Chief Minister of Delhi and the former Chief Minister of Jharkhand State (now facing detention) have been repeatedly summoned by anti-corruption investigators. The peasants are mobilising again for their demands for a Minimum Support Price’ (MSP) etc., they have been blocked from entering Delhi and are facing repression. All opposition political parties must stand together and resist the authoritarian ways of the Government.

February 17, 2024 —HK

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