If demonetisation is the flavour of the season then cleaning up of election funding is probably the second-most discussed topic these days. On Monday, news reports said the Election Commission (EC) has recommended to the government that anonymous donations above or equal to Rs 2,000 should be prohibited. It also recommended that exemption of income tax should only be extended to political parties that contest elections and win seats in Lok Sabha or assembly elections. If accepted, these recommendations would give more power to the EC to keep a check on anonymous donations, which are right now capped at Rs 20,000, as well as help crack down on political parties that are formed only with “an eye on availing the benefits of income tax exemption”.
In a piece in The Wire, two researchers from Association of Democratic Reforms write: “While there are several laws that governing the disclosure of finances of political parties, it becomes increasingly apparent through this analysis of the parties’ disclosure that there is an inherent resistance or a lack of political will to be more transparent, and thus accountable.” An analysis done by ADR shows that between 2004 and 2012, the sources for more than 75% of the funding received by six national political parties could not be traced.
The EC’s recommendations found support from some quarters. In Kanpur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the EC to pressure political parties to create transparency over the donations they get. Addressing a pre-poll rally in the state, the PM he had told Opposition members ahead of the Parliament session to debate on the issue of donations and of holding simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections.
In Bihar, chief minister Nitish Kumar went a step ahead: Talking about the EC’s proposal, he said that the law should be amended and that parties must reveal who has given even “one rupee or Rs 10 to it. He, however, expressed doubt if the BJP-led NDA government would bring such an amendment.
It’s heartening to note that two senior leaders are on the same page on cleaning up the political funding, which becomes the primary source of black money. But as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: The leaders must not abandon the cause once the elections are over; their commitment to it will be measured against the actions they take after the election poll season is over to clean up political funding.