It is the season of raids in India to unearth black money. The government’s entire effort is directed at pushing India towards a cashless economy or less cash economy. It seems a noble exercise but who allowed the political parties to receive cash donations and enjoy tax exemption?. Intentions may be bonafide but why the discreet silence over Election Commission suggestions to ban anonymous donations above 2000 to political parties?. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has responded on record that “political parties haven’t been granted any exemption post demonetisation and the introduction of the Taxation Laws (Second Amendment) Act, 2016, which came in force on December 15, 2016. Under Section 13A of IT Act 1961, Political parties have to submit audited accounts, income and expenditure details and balance sheets”.
Like the proverbial “to be or not to be”, the question is whether there is any law to allow political parties the benefit of tax exemption?. People for long have been debating as to how to make electoral funding transparent? How to clean up the corporate funding to political parties? How to hold political parties accountable by bringing them under the RTI Act? Why not impose tax on the income of political parties above a certain limit?. When people at large are being asked to account for their 500 and 1,000 notes why treat political parties as sacred cows? Don’t they need to come clean?.
The BJP’s big talk on corruption would gain legitimacy if the party leads by example. There are 1,900 registered political parties and 400 of these have never contested any election. Parties mostly claim getting 80 to 85 percent of donations in amounts below 20,000 from individuals. The law helps them keep their names under wraps. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself spoke on many occasions about India moving towards a cashless society where black money has no place. A very lofty vision indeed. But if the people are expected to go cashless, why not begin with political parties by directing them to not accept cash donations. This would be a much needed electoral reform. Why allow donations to political parties through anonymous and questionable sources? Surely this can end black money in elections in no time because currently under the existing law, political parties need not furnish details of donors who contribute up to 20,000 each. Why not encourage political parties like common people to use ATM cards, debit cards and PayTm etc.? The Government should take a moral ground by taking demonetisation a step forward making all donations to political parties cashless.