Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently exhorted media personnel to get a closer understanding of how political parties function and practise democratic values and professed ideologies.

Indeed, there is a need to make people aware of the internal dynamics of parties. However, knowingly or unwittingly, Modi missed out on calling for a scrutiny of the whys and wherefores of party funding, save for a fleeting mention of it.

Ironically, the BJP currently tops the list of corporate funding of political parties, followed by Congress. Alas! Details of the sources are quite opaque, much to consternation of the voters, who will be unable to zero in on the lesser devil. 

This haziness gives rise to doubts of crony capitalism vis-à-vis political parties. According to Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), nearly 70 per cent of party funding comes from 'unknown' sources. On its part, the Modi government had mandated that ‘unanimous’ cash donations in excess of Rs 2,000 had to be substantiated by each and every political party with I-T returns and mentioning the source. 

Although, allowing donations via cheques or digitally augurs well, it will have few takers, given the fear of the donors that their financial status would stand exposed. As such, the limit on cash donations at Rs 2,000 merely increases the job of accountants of political parties to cook the books.

The government also mooted electoral bonds, by which corporations can purchase time-limited bearer bonds from designated bonds and deposit them in the accounts of political parties.

The hitch here is that bearer bonds do not reveal the identity of donors, which is again a step forward and two backward.

That politics makes for strange bedfellows is evident here too. The BJP, with the help of Congress, retroactively amended the Foreign Contributions Regulations Act (FCRA) to skirt a Delhi High Court judgement that held that both parties were guilty of accepting contributions from foreign companies.

The amendment with retrospective effect absolved them and others of any wrongdoing in the past. The BJP government also waived the restriction that a company cannot donate more than 7.5 per cent of average net profit for last three years, making a mockery of financial transparency.

Even the Communist Party joins them in arguing that they are not public bodies, though they receive funding from unknown sources, exercise control of government on behalf of people and even submit I-T returns and get total exemption. Thus, they are answerable to none about sources of funding, even as their total declared income crossed a mindboggling Rs 9,278 crore by FY15.

Transparent funding alone would reveal if parties have complete autonomy over themselves and are not acting at the behest of wily businessmen. Modi, who showed his serious concern about internal working of the political parties and urged the media to keep tabs on them, should focus on this pertinent issue.

There is a need for stringent ‘disclosure’ laws and stiff penalties for nil or wrongful disclosures. That is a criminal offence, after all. Does it sound like a Hobson’s choice? It is not so!

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