Congress seeks poll bond disclosure
The Congress on Wednesday asked the government to make full disclosure on electoral bonds in Parliament so that accountability could be fixed in what the party called one of the biggest political scams in the country involving the Prime Minister’s Office.
Responding to the latest revelation that the PMO had allegedly ordered the finance ministry to open a special window for the issuance of electoral bonds in violation of stipulated norms, Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Randeep Surjewala and Adhir Chowdhury said at a joint media conference that an impartial inquiry and scrutiny by Parliament of the list of donors and receivers were required to fix accountability.
HuffingtonPost India had reported on Tuesday that the PMO had directed the finance ministry to break its own rules to approve unscheduled and illegal sale of electoral bonds on two occasions before Assembly elections to Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana.
The website had relied on previously unpublished government documents that had been obtained by transparency activist Commodore (retd) Lokesh Batra.
“The revelations make it clear that the PMO was directly involved in this illegality. Parliament is in session and the government should make full disclosure in both Houses. Place all the information on the floor of the House. On the basis of the identity of the donors, the country will judge which policy of the government helped which corporate. This is a political scam, this tarnishes the image of Indian democracy,” Sharma said.
He wondered whether the recent cut in corporate tax, in addition to several other policies, were part of a quid pro quo with the government. The Centre’s decision to reduce corporate tax recently provided a relief of Rs 1.25 lakh crore to corporates.
Pointing out that the government had overruled the objections of the Reserve Bank of India and the Election Commission to introduce the electoral bearer bonds, Sharma said: “The bearer bond is a beimani (dishonesty) bond. This is not a scheme, this is a tailor-made instrument of corruption meant to extort money, to oblige and force the corporate. The direct involvement of the Prime Minister is clear. File notings establish that the PMO forced the finance ministry to indulge in illegality.”
The electoral bond scheme, introduced through the finance bill amid severe criticism from the Opposition in 2017, was meant only for Lok Sabha elections but the Narendra Modi government wanted to use it for the Assembly elections in Karnataka in May 2018 and later in the Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana polls, according to HuffingtonPost.
So far, over 95 per cent of the funds raised through the scheme have gone to the BJP.
Releasing official documents obtained by the RTI activist, the Congress said in a statement: “The finance ministry put up a note on April 3, 2018, for amending the scheme for issuing bonds before the Assembly elections. The secretary (economic affairs), S.C. Garg, rejected the proposed amendment by stating that: (a) the meaning being given by way of amendment to the electoral bond scheme for its issuance before Assembly elections is ‘incorrect’ and there will be ‘several exceptions’ every year if bonds were to be issued before every Assembly elections.”
The stand, however, was changed after the intervention of the PMO, which called for “a special 10-day window for issuance of electoral bonds”, according to the HuffingtonPost article.
The finance ministry accordingly noted and recorded this direction of the PMO on April 11, 2018, and put up the file again. The secretary (economic affairs) did a somersault and overturned his own stand in view of the PMO’s directions recorded on the file, according to HuffingtonPost India.
The secretary, Garg, wrote that bonds be issued in view of the “requirement” before the Karnataka elections. The “requirement” was of the Prime Minister and the BJP, the Congress alleged on Wednesday.
Bonds were accordingly issued in April 2018, before the Karnataka Assembly elections. The finance ministry recorded that the bonds be issued before the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana in November-December 2018 as well.
Congress leader Azad said: “This is now clear that the electoral bonds were a conspiracy between the government and the corporate to help each other. That’s why the donors’ names were kept a secret.”
Congress communications chief Surjewala said: “This was in fact a black money recycling scheme. The RBI said it (the scheme) would encourage money-laundering. The Election Commission said this would destroy transparency of electoral funding.
“The government committed a deceit with institutions and the people. The responsibility is only of the Prime Minister. It is on his illegal diktat that the rules were violated. He forced the bureaucrats to throw the law into the dustbin.”