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Editorial

‘Bond’ and Business

Election in India means business. It is really big business that matters in the economy as political parties that are not basically cadre-based, would recruit foot soldiers in large numbers to manage their affairs. Musclemen find their importance during election season and a large number of unemployed youth, including highly educated youth, get some kind of job to keep them busy even for a short period. After all, it is a better option for ‘an IIT engineer to do something for the country than driving a cab’! So the ongoing 7-phase poll stretching over three months is not bad for them. Funding of political parties by business houses is not new in Indian politics. It dates back to the British days. With changing times and technological up-gradation in campaigning electoral expenses are increasing in leaps and bounds. It is an open secret in Indian election drama that ruling elites resort to corrupt practices to collect money. No political party is raising the issue of a recent judgement by the apex court declaring the electoral bond scheme (EBS) unconstitutional, in election meetings. Their shadow-boxing is over some secondary or localised issues while larger issues affecting millions in a situation of massive unemployment, inflation, price rise, and jobless growth remain unaddressed. They define development in a language that is almost Hebrew to most people. Parties cannot dig their own grave by opposing EBS–all benefit from it, regional as well as national parties.

For a very long period, Congress was the sole beneficiary of company funding. But they are in stiff competition with new entrants in the parliamentary game, rather than gambling. This parliamentary race that sometimes turns ugly is all about how to loot the exchequer in the name of the people.

A former secretary to the government of India who was instrumental in the formulation of the EBS was candid enough to admit the bitter truth: ‘We don’t have exact estimates but I sense that the electoral bonds didn’t find more than 5-10 percent of the total or more than 10 percent of the total election expenditure which is much more. So there is an enormous amount of black money which is in the system’. The parties that talk of eradicating black money are lying; it goes to the coffers of all political parties, big or small. Even the virulent critics of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are not demanding the scrapping of EBS.

How Gandhi and in the process, his party–Congress Party–were entertained by some leading business tycoons of yesteryears is well recorded. Gandhi had close personal relationships and accepted financial contributions from Ambalal Sarabhai, Jamnalal Bajaj, and Ghanshyam Das Birla. The Tatas reportedly used to finance both Congress and Rajagopalichari’s Swatantra Party. These days high-tech propaganda in elections requires money, huge money, and black money foots the bill. Even left parties no longer depend on small donations. They too have changed their style of functioning and collecting money from dubious sources.

Now the Companies Act 1956 has provisions for corporate donations in Section 239A. In 1969, the Indira Gandhi government deleted Section 239A, thereby imposing a ban on corporate funding to political parties, in an apparent bid to deprive her adversaries–the old guards of the Syndicate–of funds. But the ban was finally lifted by the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1985. And the arrangement continued till 2013 without any hindrance. Finally came the EBS and it is likely to stay in one form or another despite the adverse Supreme Court order.

What political parties officially show as their income and electoral expenses represent only a very small fraction of the total amount involved in this big business called Election. Without a social upheaval, black money will rule the roost and nothing will change for the better in the coming days.

12-05-2024

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Frontier
Vol 56, No. 48, May 26 - Jun 1, 2024