Are electoral bonds a good thing or a bad thing?
A lot depends on what you want to assess.
If you want to look at the situation before they came into being about two or three years ago through a budget re-change, we had black money funding political parties.
All political parties claimed that they received a lot of money in cash under Rs 20,000 each, and hence, the bulk of it was from small donors, when actually the money came from big businessmen or vested interests.
After electoral bonds came into being, what we now have is a greater deal of transparency. Only white money can be bought into electoral bonds and into political parties.
How do electoral bonds work?
The Reserve Bank or the State Bank issue these bonds to any corporation or any individual who wants to buy them and give it to a political party. So they can pay the money through cheque or cash or any legal route of payment, collect these bonds, and these bonds are then given to political parties, who then can encash them.
However, the problem with electoral bonds is that the public and the voter does not know who has given money to which party. We know that parties have got the money, like in the last one year, i.e. 2017-18, the BJP received over 95 per cent of the total electoral bonds issued -- about Rs 210 crore.
But the point is, we do not know who gave it to them, in case you want to check whether that person received any favours from the BJP. So if it was a businessman close to the BJP, then you would want to know, okay, they’ve paid it and this policy was changed to benefit them.
But this anonymity is what is the clear weakness of electoral bonds, which is why the Supreme Court last week decided that whoever has received any money through electoral bonds must disclose the bonds and the details of who has given them to the Election Commission by May 31st.
However, the real problem is somewhere else. The problem is not really about disclosure but our political system, where businessmen are aligned this way or that, and politicians do not take kindly to a businessman who has funded a rival party. So if they come to power, they may target businessmen who have funded the rival party. And businessmen are mortally afraid of one party targeting them merely because they funded another party.
So, this is what needs to be fixed. We need to have a political system and a legal system that protects businessmen who have honestly given money to a party that they liked. If they are going to be targeted, they will prefer anonymity. The issue is not political parties wanting anonymity but businessmen wanting anonymity.
And till that situation changes, where the legal system can protect a businessman from being targeted by a political party that does not like him, till that thing happens, businessmen will continue to seek anonymity. That is the problem that needs to be fixed.
And once that is fixed, electoral bonds will be a good thing. They can be completely transparent, you will know who bought them, who paid for them, who got them, which political party gets it, and then you can track policies and see whether the money that is given to the political party has actually resulted in some kind of a benefit to the businessman who paid the electoral bonds to a party.
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