AA Edit | State Bank should have shared all info on bonds

Supreme Court's Directive Forces SBI to Disclose Electoral Bond Information, Yet Transparency Remains a Challenge

There was no room for equivocating after the Supreme Court had ruled that the information regarding the electoral bonds sold by the bank and bonds redeemed by political parties be made public through the Election Commission’s website. Even so, State Bank of India acted coy with the release of the data when it shared most of the details of the bonds issued and redeemed but without giving out the alphanumeric code of the bonds.

Having sullied its reputation in having sought an impossibly long time (till June 30) to put out the information on the bonds that facilitated donating to political parties, the bank had to take another rap on the knuckles in being told to be completely forthcoming and publish the unique numerals on the bonds by March 16.

The court had never said that the bonds purchased had to be matched with the names of donors. The Bank’s argument that it would take time to reconcile the two silos of information was specious and was shot down. ‘In for a penny, in for a pound’ should have been the logic driving this exercise in transparency, which the Bank failed to accept wholeheartedly, for whatever reason.

A plain disclosure was all that the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court had asked for and the full information will be in the public domain soon. It would be up to those who can match the bonds marked by an alphanumeric code with the political party that benefited to draw their own conclusions and feel free to exercise their franchise in the forthcoming general elections to the Lok Sabha and a few Assemblies.

The driving principle behind the disclosure was that information on political funding in a democracy was essential to help voters decide who they will vote for and that political parties were subject to the same disclosures as individual candidates who put their hats in the electoral fray.

There was little surprise that the ruling party at the Centre had attracted a little more than the contributions made to all the others put together and yet there is no denying the fact that all parties had drawn money from the ingenious scheme that was shot down as illegal and unconstitutional.

The details that came tumbling out of a Pandora’s box were in many ways astonishing given that the biggest donor was a lottery agent who operates out of the state of Tamil Nadu which had banned lotteries in 2003. The credentials of many other big donors are unclear, to say the least.

This is the nature of the game of politics in which ties between ruling parties at the Centre or State and their benefactors are bound by the greed index of market forces and secured by quid quo pros and there is no reason for any party to feel unduly embarrassed even if some regional parties got funds disproportionate to their size when compared with the oldest national party.

What India needs most is clean funding that is totally transparent, and not driven by black money dynamics as it used to be before the bonds scheme kicked in. Clean money is an ideal that seems a concept too far in a country with a history of graft in politics and administration. The minimum is being done now to tell the voter what it is through a window to the byzantine world of political funding for the netas and their parties.

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