Funding of political parties- Half-measures won’t work

editors note

In the public perception, political corruption is the fountainhead of most forms of corruption. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had often said that “this is the beginning of the end of the corrupt as the government was initiating tough steps corruption which has become a dangerous disease worse than even cancer in the country”. Recently in a well-packed punch, he had a jibe against his predecessor, saying that “only doctor sahib knows the art of taking a shower with a raincoat on”. One can safely argue that the image of former PM remains as that of a man of integrity. Little doubt that when Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley presented his Budget that public was expecting steps to check the lack of transparency and accountability in the funding of political parties. He indeed announced some measures in the Union Budget to cleanse the process of making donations toward election expenses of parties. But his proposals fall too short of expectations as the ceiling of 2,000 on cash donation by any individual to a party reduced from the earlier 20,000 would not serve many purposes to bring the desired reforms in the electoral system and end political corruption once for all. All that the parties would now need to do is find more people to lend their names to these donations as cash donors. The proposal falls short of stopping the flow of illicit political donations.

In the 2017-18 Budget, Jaitley has introduced electoral bonds with a view to ensuring transparent political funding while maintaining the secrecy of the bond holders. The proposal to allow donors to purchase electoral bonds from banks for giving to registered political parties for redemption would hardly contribute to transparency. Indeed, donors should not be leveraged with any anonymity. Even Wanchoo Committee report submitted in 1971 had suggested several reforms but the report has been given a burial it seems. Political leadership should understand that the dual challenge of breaking the unholy alliance between big corporate houses and politicians and stopping the use of black money in elections can be achieved by restricting political parties to receive only cashless payments from donors. The civil society was also expected to influence and educate the political parties to change their old hackneyed working styles that left many things to imagination. It is heartening that the proposal has come from the ruling dispensation but far from adding to transparency, the proposal seems only a half measure and half -measures never go even halfway in achieving transparency and accountability in political donations.