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Entire electoral bond controversy may prove to be a flop show!: Dr Chandra

Taking a look back at the recent developments regarding electoral bonds and the Supreme Court’s decision on it, Dr Jagdeesh Chandra stresses that although it is not known who or what acted as a catalyst to speed up the hearing on the matter, the outcome is for the greater good of the public. Dr Chandra also explains how political parties tried to create a narrative against BJP for getting the most funds but failed miserably, how the new government will have to come up with a new plan in place of electoral bonds, and how black money could again come back in play. Excerpts... (Part I)

  • What does it mean when we say that electoral bonds are an inexplicable puzzle?
    Dr Jagdeesh Chandra:
    In his budget speech in the Parliament, late Arun Jaitley had said that till the time electioneering is made independent and neutral, democracy will not work. And it will become independent and neutral only when the funding of political parties is made transparent. Taking this thought forward a law was brought in 2017 and was notified in 2018. At that time, a few individuals had told Jaitley that secrecy should be maintained in it. They feared that if someday the government went out of power, then what would happen to their fate since if they funded one party, the other party that came to power might trouble them. Jaitley understood their issues and said their secrecy would be maintained. The payment mode will be cheques, but it will be kept secret. Suddenly a writ was filed and for 4-5 years, nothing was done on it. But then, in October last year hearing was held on that writ and the court reserved its judgement in November and in March this year, the decision was given. So the first puzzle in this issue is that nothing happened on the matter for five years but what happened now all of a sudden that the case moved ahead? Elections are around the corner and you cannot question the Court’s resolve since the matter was ongoing for the last few years. So why was it accelerated all of a sudden by the people who were pleading in the matter? This is a puzzle. So the overall gist that came out was that the idea with which this was brought forward, to keep the funding transparent and secret, could not be maintained since the secrecy is no more, with all due regard to the Supreme Court they gave the decision which was correct. But the other aspect was that the secrecy was no more and that might have several ramifications in future therefore the electoral bonds are an inexplicable puzzle.
  • It is being said this entire controversy turned out to be a flop show. What is your take on it?
    It is not a flop show as yet but could be in the near future because the court’s intention is obviously good and now the details are before the public. So there is no controversy as far as these two aspects are concerned, nor is there any issue of a review. When the numbers of the electoral bond scheme were announced, a bid was initiated to create a perception among the people that BJP is the only beneficiary and the party took money from the companies that were in controversies and the propaganda was started as if BJP’s election fund has been unearthed. However, they forgot that it was the entire nation’s election fund that is the fund that all the parties had, which came to light since fifteen political parties benefited from electoral bonds. So they were not successful in creating the perception and putting the BJP in grey. So now what has happened is that all political parties are feeling guilty since they were unsuccessful and could not create a perception against the BJP. Perhaps this is why Amit Shah had said in Parliament that his silence is better otherwise it will create disturbances for other political parties and that is what happened. Additionally, several political parties have received more money than the BJP and now each of them would want to bury this issue and that is why people have termed it to be a flop show.
  • Now that this arrangement has been termed unconstitutional, what other choices are the parties left with?
    See, the biggest thing is that there should be a consensus on whatever is to be done. Former Chief Election Commissioner of India Sunil Arora recently said in a live discussion on electoral bonds that the Supreme Court did not show any way out. But the SC is there to interpret and review and this work is of the executive and it should come out with a new plan which then they can forward to the Supreme Court. So consensus and transparency are two things that are required and if there is no consensus, then the old idea of state funding could be pursued wherein the government gives money to political parties. So a consensus is important and the new government should bring that for the next elections.
  • Do you agree that use of black money in election funding will gain momentum now?
    That is a natural process. Amit Shah had asked everyone how they used to get election funds. It was in cash as everyone knows. Demonitisation was brought to bring an end to the black money circulating everywhere and it was after this move, that digital transactions and transactions through cheques, increased. Now suppose today I want to give one lakh rupees as an election fund donation to any political party, what option do I have? The electoral bond scheme has been termed illegal. So now donations would have to be made in cash. That is why it was said that we are soon entering the cash era if we do not bring an effective solution to this conundrum.
  • Supreme Court has said that citizens have a right to know about funds of political parties. Do you think people are eager to know about it?
    See, SC’s view is crystal clear in this aspect i.e. the voter has a right to know who gave which political party how much money and what benefit was derived out of it. The counter view of the government is that people do not have a right to know about their funds, which the Supreme Court overruled and later the government also accepted SC’s decision. As far as people being eager to know about it is concerned, obviously, people would be, but not to a great extent. People in general are least concerned whether Adani, Reliance or some other companies have given money to a certain political party. In fact, there was a survey done a few years back which gave shocking results and it came to light that about twelve per cent of voters took money to cast a vote.
  • Few people believe SC moved way past what the applicants had demanded through their application on the issue. Do you agree?
    Oh, that is very interesting. It may be in the larger interest of justice done by the Supreme Court. The application was to make the scheme unquestionable but SC went one step ahead and realised that even the people must be curious to learn about which party has received how much in electoral bond funds and then this decision was given. So the applicant must have been extremely happy because his application sought something but the SC gave more than what he had asked for.
  • Lok Sabha election process has started and some people are questioning the timing of this decision. What is your take on it?
    See, the SC and its benches have a very high degree of credibility, dignity, and integrity and it is absolutely non-political. When we read about CJI, we can observe that he is absolutely non-political and is a dignified person. So you can’t level any hidden motive or agenda charge on the bench that heard this matter. But what happens is that sometimes people indulge in loose talk and believe that there is some judicial activism going on. The reason for this was because some decisions caused inconvenience to the government. Take, for instance, the case of the Chandigarh Mayor or the protection of press freedom, where the Supreme Court rightfully questioned how democracy could thrive otherwise. So, you may cite timing but see this is a democracy and you can’t stop people from saying what they want and even if people may be saying it, I don’t buy this theory. The law follows a process which goes on and does not get bothered with who says what.
  • Why is it that the political parties and companies donating money to these parties are shying from giving details?
    They are shying because they have realised that this would open a pandora’s box so the political parties said what has come in public knowledge is alright and now no information is to be given. As far as corporates and industrialists not willing to share the information is concerned, is because they realised that they might get stuck in some litigation somewhere and they brought Mukul Rohatgi, I think, to present their case in SC, but the SC refused to hear. So now both parties want the matter should die down and come to an end. TO BE CONTINUED…

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