Electoral Bonds

News: The Supreme Court, after a brief hearing on March 24, reserved orders on the question of whether or not to stay the electoral bond scheme, ahead of the upcoming State elections.

Issues with Electoral Bonds:

Impact on democracy:

  • When citizens cast their votes, they have the right to do soon the basis of full and complete information.
  • And there is no piece of information more important than the knowledge of who funds political parties.
  • The Indian Supreme Court has long held — and rightly so — that the “right to know”, especially in the context of elections, is an integral part of the right to freedom of expression under the Indian Constitution.
  • By keeping this knowledge from citizens and voters, the electoral bonds scheme violates fundamental tenets of our democracy.

Element of Money in Elections:

  • It is equally important that if a democracy is to thrive, the role of money in influencing politics ought to be limited. In many advanced countries, for example, elections are funded publicly.
  • The purpose of this is to guarantee a somewhat level playing field, so that elections are a battle of ideas and not money.
  • The electoral bonds scheme, however, removes all pre-existing limits on political donations,and effectively allows well-resourced corporations to buy politicians by paying immense sums of money.

Loopholes in donation:

  • Electoral bonds allow receiving limitless donation and that too asymmetrically.
  • Since the donations are routed through the State Bank of India, it is possible for the government to find out who is donating to which party, but not for the political opposition to know.
  • This, in turn, means that every donor is aware that the central government can trace their donations back to them.
  • Statistics bear this out: a vast majority of the immensely vast sums donated through multiple electoral cycles over the last three years, have gone to the ruling party.

Government’s Arguments:

  • The government has attempted to justify the electoral bonds scheme by arguing that its purpose is to prevent the flow of black money into elections.
  • It is entirely unclear what preventing black money has to do with donor anonymity, making donations limitless, and leaving citizens in the dark.
  • Indeed, as the electoral bonds scheme allows even foreign donations to political parties.
  • With this the prospects of institutional corruption including by foreign sources increases with the electoral bonds scheme, instead of decreasing.

Constitutional objections

  • The objections to the electoral bonds scheme, highlighted above, are not objections rooted in political morality, or in public policy, they are constitutional objections.
  • The right to know has long been enshrined as a part of the right to freedom of expression.
  • Uncapping political donations and introducing a structural bias into the form of the donations violate both the guarantee of equality before law, as well as being manifestly arbitrary.

Role of Judiciary:

  • Governments derive their legitimacy from elections.
  • However, for just that reason the process that leads up to the formation of the government should be policed with particular vigilance.
  • In other words, the electoral legitimacy of the government is questionable if the electoral process has become questionable.
  • The courts is the only independent body that can adequately umpire and enforce the ground rules of democracy.

Conclusion

  • The government should take into account the distorting effect of the electoral bonds scheme and take measures to remove the provisions in the scheme that leaves the scope for its misuse.