The Indian Express
New Delhi

The Allahabad High Court on Monday agreed to hear a public interest litigation seeking a probe into the foreign funding to political parties and held that it is a matter of “public interest”. This makes a mockery of the Centre’s selective move to institute an inquiry into foreign funding of only the recent entrant in the electoral arena, Aam Aadmi Party. The sources of funds received by the political parties have always been kept enshrouded from public view. Presently, parties are not supposed to disclose the identity of donors who contribute below `20,000. An analysis done by the Association of Democratic Reforms on Income Tax returns and statements filed by the Congress, BJP, CPI-M, CPI, NCP and BSP with the Election Commission (EC) shows that between 2004 and 2012, these political parties received funding worth `3,675 crore through unknown sources.

It is indeed time the law is changed to empower the EC to ensure full public disclosure of all donors — individual and institutional. This is already being done in countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, Bulgaria, the US and Japan. All the political parties should disclose the names of people who give them `1,000 and above with full details of the persons. Foreign funding should be banned even from NRIs whose source of funding can’t be traced. All political donations should be through Indians living in India. Parties should not accept donations above `5,000 except by cheques. Unless these measures are taken transparency in political funding will remain a mirage.

The moot question is that when half the countries in the world have a strict code and laws on political finance, insist on full public disclosure and impose ceilings on party election expenditure, why should the Indian voter be forced to accept any less? Why can’t a model code for political finance be evolved like the model code of conduct that prevails today? It is high time that the Indian political system is cleaned up so that criminals and black money pedlars do not have it so easy as they do today and do not hold the system to ransom.

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