The political message in electoral bonds findings - Hindustan Times
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The political message in electoral bonds findings

Mar 18, 2024 02:41 AM IST

On March 14, the ECI made public the data on electoral bonds it received from State Bank of India. Can this cause a political storm?

On March 14, two days ahead of the announcement of general elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) made public the data on electoral bonds it received from the State Bank of India (SBI). Can this cause a political storm?

The electoral bonds data was released on Thursday PREMIUM
The electoral bonds data was released on Thursday

Before answering that question, let us look at the complete chain of events in the electoral bonds matter. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Narendra Modi, in its first term, implemented the electoral bond scheme to “legalise” donations made to political parties. Even before the scheme was notified, the Opposition alleged that it was aimed at supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Association for Democratic Reforms, which has worked for electoral reforms for years, approached the Supreme Court (SC) against the move. The court took seven years—including the six years since the bond scheme was implemented—to deliver a verdict. In its February 15 order, the court rejected the scheme as unconstitutional.

The data released on March 14 does not reveal the complete story. The first data set gives the name of the bond buyer, while the second gives details of the recipient parties. The linkages between the two are lacking. The SC has sent a notice to SBI asking why it didn’t provide unique numbers linking donors to their political contributions.

Read Here: Election Commission makes public new electoral bonds data

Are some secrets waiting to be revealed in the coming days? Perhaps. But the story that has emerged so far is exciting in itself. Those expecting to see the names of industrial bigwigs benefiting from the government were disappointed. It is natural in such a situation to wonder what the more than 1,250 firms that purchased electoral bonds totalling 12,155 crore between April 12, 2019, and February 15, 2024, really do. What are their business interests? On top of the list is Future Gaming and Hotels Services Pvt. Ltd. It purchased bonds worth 1,368 crore. Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Ltd invested 966 crore, while Quick Supply Chain Pvt. Ltd bought bonds for 410 crore. Until today, the names of these companies have rarely been discussed by the public. Future Gaming, the largest contributor, runs a lottery business headquartered in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu and was founded by Santiago Martin, a lottery king. Martin’s story is astonishing. In his early days, he used to do petty jobs in Myanmar. In 1988, he returned home and opened a lottery firm, the success of which was beyond all expectations. Martin has often been the subject of controversy. Is he so pro-democracy that he purchased bonds worth over 1,300 crore from lottery money and donated it to political parties?

According to initial information, three of the top five bond buyers purchased the bonds following action taken by the Enforcement Directorate or the Income Tax department. Also, the first 20 donors bought bonds worth 5,830 crore, representing 48% of the overall transaction. Which parties were given these bonds?

Data shows the BJP has received 47.5% of total donations, the Trinamool Congress 12.6%, and the Congress 11.1%. Bharat Rashtra Samithi, led by K Chandrashekar Rao, finished fourth with 1,215 crore, while the Biju Janata Dal ranks fifth, with 776 crore.

Read Here | ‘Electoral bonds is an experiment’: RSS general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale

If you ask anyone which is the second largest political party after the BJP, the majority would say the Congress. Oddly, the Congress is third while Mamata Banerjee’s TMC, in power only in West Bengal, is second. The question also arises as to how the parties running relatively small states such as Telangana and Odisha rose to fourth and fifth place, respectively. The information available so far shows the majority of bond purchases have been made by businesses that needed government assistance. Is this money spent to further personal gain? We’ll have to wait a few more days for an answer to this.

Finally, let us return to the question raised in the beginning. It will be intriguing how the Opposition leverages this matter in the upcoming election. Given that all parties were involved in the game, simply proclaiming one’s innocence can potentially lead to complications. This scenario presents a collective predicament, in which both donors and recipients find themselves in an equally awkward position.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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