New Delhi

The investigation into the Aam Aadmi Party's funding smacks of hypocrisy in the light of massive irregularities in the funding of established parties.

There is a peculiar tone-deafness to the government and the BJP’s allegations concerning the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s funding. Consider Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit taking a swipe at her new rival’s income sources and seeking the ethical high ground by dismissing corruption as a valid topic of electoral debate. The BJP isn’t far behind; leaders like VK Malhotra and Subramanian Swamy have been just as vociferous in calling for an investigation. 

Given the backdrop of pervasive mistrust in the political establishment against which the upcoming assembly elections and 2014 general elections will be fought, and the track record of both parties, this hints at two overlapping factors. One is a failure on the part of calcified political apparatuses to gauge public sentiment appropriately and swiftly. The other is an arrogant but perhaps misplaced faith in old tactics and rhetoric.

AAP is not above the law, certainly. Last month, the Delhi High Court asked the government to look into the party’s accounts and submit a report by December 10; it is obligated to do so. But the manner in which the established national parties have utilised the opportunity to target the parvenu smacks of a political hit job. A swift probe would have gotten the matter out of the way before the election’s final stretch, but Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has ruled this out. 

According to him, it may not be possible to come up with findings before the December 4 elections. This leaves open the possibility of the government using the probe as leverage against AAP in the aftermath of the elections in case the latter’s performance is in line with poll findings.
What lends the entire affair a somewhat surreal tinge, however, is the stark contrast between AAP’s financial affairs and those of the Congress, BJP and various other parties. 

The Representation of People Act, 1951, states that political parties must declare every contribution of over Rs20,000. It’s a loophole various parties have exploited to the hilt. The Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch put out a study recently that pegged the total income of the six national parties — the Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, CPI and CPI (M) — between 2004-05 and 2011-12 at  Rs4,895.96 crore, with the Congress at the top of the list followed by the BJP. Of this, over 75 per cent comes from unknown donors with 82.5 per cent of the Congress’s funds being of the untraceable variety while the figure is 73 per cent for the BJP. Given the vast sums of money involved and the utter implausibility of the majority of that money coming from donations in the sub-Rs20,000 range, it points to an impressively sustained level of  financial sleight-of-hand.

Nor have the established parties made any effort to bring about transparency. A 2001 law ministry advisory panel proposal for legislation to comprehensively regulate political funding continues to gather dust, as do various other proposals. And various parties, particularly the Congress, have made no secret of their aversion to coming under the RTI. To now harp on AAP’s funding — when the party has set itself higher standards than the law calls for, listing contributions below Rs20,000 or over it on the party website — and blithely ignore the rot in the system as a whole is farcical. If the party leaderships want to understand AAP’s momentum, they need look no further. Contrary to what Sheila Dikshit may say, corruption does matter to the voting public.

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