In light of the Supreme Court’s recent order refusing to stay the sale of the latest tranche of electoral bonds in April, K RAVEENDRAN explains why this is an abdication of the apex court’s responsibility by discussing the various legitimate arguments against these bonds.
THE Modi government has perfected the art of using a safeguard against something to perpetuate exactly the same act or tendency. Erego, national unity is cited as the reason for attempts to wreck national unity, and national interest is taken to mean the interest of the ruling party, especially when there is a conflict between the two.
Though the ostensible idea behind the scheme is to curtail the use of black money in elections, the law, as it has been finally made, promotes black money and favours the ruling party.
If the law continues its course, BJP will remain a permanent feature of power politics in India for all times to come.
Regrettably, the highest court of the land has facilitated this most undesirable tendency by refusing to intervene decisively. This is the latest in line of what seems to have become a regular practice for the Supreme Court to look away when inconvenient matters are brought to its attention, especially when those concern the present Union Government.
Court’s record of non-intervention
The Supreme Court last week refused to stay the sale of a fresh set of electoral bonds in April, ahead of assembly elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry. Accordingly, the fresh round of bonds has been launched and obviously, the ruling party will lionise the proceeds from the sale, which has been the case right from the beginning.
With an authoritarian government at the Centre, it cannot be otherwise, putting the other parties at a great disadvantage in terms of competing on a level playing field with the current political hegemon.
The Supreme Court has been dilly-dallying on the issue ever since multiple petitions were filed challenging the electoral bonds scheme as far back as in 2017 itself, when the scheme was announced through the Finance Act, 2017.
The petitions had raised several valid questions about the possibility of abuse of the system, but the court refused to effectively intervene, allowing the government to go ahead with the issuance of bonds.
Even the latest refusal of stay is on the flimsiest of grounds: that the “bonds are released at periodical intervals in January, April, July and October of every year; that they had been so released in the years 2018, 2019 and 2020 without any impediment.”
The Court not only refused to grant the stay but also put off a detailed hearing of the case as if the issue under consideration is trivial and does not merit any urgent attention. The terse order for not taking up the hearing is even more insulting: “The application could not be taken up for hearing”.
Election Commission had earlier raised objections against electoral bonds.
The apex court has even dismissed the objections raised by the Election Commission that the anonymity provided for in the bonds would breed corruption and cuts at the very root of transparency in election funding.
An affidavit filed by the Election Commission had termed the introduction of electoral bonds a retrograde step. The Commission expressed concern over the non-disclosure of donor identity, and over clauses that could allow shell companies and foreign entities to fund and influence Indian political parties and elections.
The Commission argued in favour of transparency in political funding, stating that the disclosure of the identity of the funders, as well as the recipients of funding, is essential to the success of democracy. The counsel for the commission also pointed out that people have the right to know about the antecedents of their representatives and the political party that electoral candidates represent.
Reserve Bank of India’s misgivings about electoral bonds dismissed too
Other institutions have raised apprehensions about electoral bonds too.
The Reserve Bank of India had warned that they would set a bad precedent, encouraging money laundering, and undermine confidence in the Indian currency.
This lends further credence to the petitioners’ fears that electoral bonds are a tool for receiving bribes in the garb of donations for the ruling party.
But the Supreme Court has steadfastly refused to entertain these apprehensions and preferred to go with the government’s arguments that the bonds are meant to eradicate black money in political funding and that many companies prefer anonymity for various reasons.
The ramifications have been along predicted lines: Most of the proceeds of electoral bonds have gone in favour of BJP, and other parties, including the main opposition Indian National Congress, are starved of funding. (IPA Service)