Electoral Reform: Details of Electoral Bonds Revealed


Electoral Reform: Details of Electoral Bonds Revealed

The Election Commission Thursday uploaded on its website the data on electoral bonds as received from the State Bank of India.

Earlier, the State Bank of India (SBI) has submitted the details of electoral bonds to Election Commission of India. SBI  had sought an extension from the Supreme Court to share the documents on 30 June, which the top court rejected.

The Supreme Court Monday ordered SBI to disclose the details of electoral bonds to the Election Commission by close of business hours on March 12. As per the order, the Election Commission will have to publish the details shared by the bank on its official website by 5 pm on March 15. The SBI is believed tot have submitted the data in a raw form.

SC's five judge bench, in a landmark judgement had earlier done away with the electoral bond scheme terming it as ‘unconstitutional’. The apex court had scrapped the controversial scheme of anonymous political funding on 15 February.

SBI is the only authorised financial institution under the electoral bond scheme.

Electoral bonds were introduced as a substitute for cash donations made to political parties with the aim of enhancing transparency in political funding. The first sale of electoral bonds took place in March 2018.


Congress attack on BJP

The opposition has been attacking the BJP while  hailing the SC  decision.  “With the Supreme Court's decision, the country will soon come to know who donated to the BJP through electoral bonds. This is the first step in exposing the corruption, scams and transactions of the Modi government,” Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge had said in a post on social platform X.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi slammed Modi government. "Electoral Bonds will prove to be the biggest scam in Indian history and will reveal the real face of Narendra Modi in front of the country by exposing the nexus between corrupt industrialists and the government," he had said.


What the data reveals 

The BJP encashed electoral bonds worth ₹6060.5 crore — the highest among all parties — between April 12, 2019 and January 24, 2024. In the period, BJP’s share in the total bonds encashed was over 47.5%.

The All India Trinamool Congress received ₹1,609.50 crore (12.6%) via this route followed by the Congress ₹1,421.9 crore (11.1%), the second and third biggest parties in terms of encashment in the period.

Major donors: Future Gaming and Hotel Services PR is the largest donor to political parties for the period April 12, 2019 to January 24, 2024. The firm donated a cumulative sum of ₹1,368 crore in electoral bonds during this period.

22 firms donated more than Rs 100 crore  during this period. Megha Engineering and Infrastructures Limited (MEIL), headquartered in Hyderabad, was second on the list in terms of the total donations at ₹966 crore. MEIL group’s Western UP Power Transmission Company Limited also donated ₹220 crore. It was followed by Qwik Supply Chain Private Limited - ₹410 crore, Haldia Energy Limited (₹377 crore), Vedanta Limited (₹375.65 crore), Essel Mining and Industries Limited (₹224.45 crore), Bharti Airtel Limited (₹198 crore) and Keventer Foodpark Infra Ltd. (₹195 crore) and MKJ group of companies ₹192 crore) to round up the top 10 donors in this period.

In total, electoral bonds worth over ₹12,155 crore were purchased by donors during this period and more than ₹12,769 crore were encashed by all the parties in the period.

What the data does not reveal: Some of India’s largest conglomerates don’t find a mention in the data set, but the entities listed may have connections to them, analysts said. Establishing these links could be a challenging task.

More data on electoral bonds, as submitted by political parties to the ECI, is also likely to be published soon, once the apex court releases the documents to the poll panel. The ECI has moved an application in the Supreme Court seeking this.

It is also expected that petitioners will move the apex court once again to seek that SBI reveal the ‘unique code’ data on electoral bonds to conclusively establish donor and recipient details.

SBI has shared two data sets with EC — the list of electoral bond purchasers and amounts of bond purchased and a separate list of political parties who received them.


Top donor were under the scanner of Enforcement Directorate’s or the Income Tax Department

An analysis of firms which feature among the top purchasers of electoral bonds  throws up many curious patterns. One of the common links is that a  significant number of companies in the top donor list (three of the top five  donors)  were under the Enforcement Directorate’s or the Income Tax Department’s scanner at some point of time in the past five years. In some cases, a chunk of the bonds were bought by these firms, in the days following such searches.

For example, in May 2023, the ED had carried out searches at the residence of Santiago Martin in Chennai, the well known lottery magnate and the managing director of Future Gaming and Hotel Services PR, the largest donor.

The other set of companies which followed a similar pattern are the Keventer Food Park Infra Ltd., the MKJ Enterprises Ltd. and the Madanlal Ltd. All these three firms are registered with the same address in Kolkata, West Bengal and have at least one common Director.

With the list of donors out in the open, Seshadri Chari (former editor of ‘Organiser’) writes “parties and corporations will scramble for cover while they face accusations and counter-accusations. It is unlikely that the BJP alone will face the brickbats, as the Congress, TMC and other regional parties have benefited from the scheme.

“Elections and political power have become far beyond the reach of those with meagre means, both in terms of money and muscle power. No ordinary citizen can participate in the electoral process unless he has the backing of a political party flush with funds or the support of a rich corporation. Needless to say, this will highly compromise the independence of such a person in political and policy matters. Hopefully, the next Parliament will rise above narrow political considerations and find a way to clean the murky Augean stable of political funding.”

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