BJP got 12 times more donations than all other parties: It's time it tells us why it opposes a cap on poll funding

The image of a common man ‘kaamdaar’ taking on elite ‘naamdaars’ is not very convincing when beamed from LED screens at rallies that required crores to set up.

 |  3-minute read |   18-01-2019
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In 2017-18, the BJP received 12 times more corporate donations than all other national parties put together, says a report by the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

The BJP received Rs 437.04 crore.

The very distant second, Congress, received Rs 26.65 crore.

If political parties start on such vastly unequal footings, a level playing field for candidates becomes impossible.

Not Quite Level: Just compare the funds received per party along with the numbers of announced donors backing each.Not Quite Level: Just compare the funds received per party along with the numbers of announced donors backing each. (Graphic: DailyO)

But can the BJP be blamed for this humongous gap? Technically, no. After all, the party won’t refuse money that comes its way. And the trend of the ruling party receiving the lion’s share of corporate donations is not new — though the margin of difference very much is.

How can we then ensure even a modicum of fairness in the ‘free and fair’ elections our democracy is proud of?

The only possible solution is bringing in a cap on the money that political parties can spend on their poll campaigns.

At present, there is a ceiling on how much an individual candidate can spend, but not on political parties.

Here’s a fun fact: The Election Commission in August last year had raised the issue of imposing a cap on poll funding. Only one political party opposed it — the BJP.

Here’s another fun fact: In 2017, the BJP government hurriedly passed through Parliament a Finance Bill, which made key changes to how corporates donate to political parties. Corporate offices were restricted from donating more than 7.5% of their average net profit in the last three years to a political party. The Bill did away with that.

Also, companies were no longer required to disclose in their profit and loss accounts the amount of contributions they had made and the political parties to which they were made.

The BJP should not allow money power to become its biggest asset. The BJP should not allow money power to become its biggest asset. (Photo: PTI/file)

Also, the reason given by the BJP to oppose a cap on poll expenditure is rather difficult to fathom — the party says it will increase caste-based politics. In the words of Bhupendra Yadav, BJP general secretary: “Campaigns led by the political parties are based on vision documents. If this is limited in any sense, it would certainly encourage politics based on caste and individual influence. Therefore, the EC may moot for better transparency than limit the expenses.”

We are sure the way the BJP received all this money, and the uses it wants to put it too, are strictly above board. But by stringently opposing the poll cap, and by the changes it has recently made in laws governing corporate donations, it is merely strengthening the Congress’ charge of its government being a ‘suit-boot ki sarkaar’.

The 2019 General Elections are set to be one of the most exciting in India's history. Several things will be put to test — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ability to retain voters’ trust, Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s ability to run his party before he can think of running the country, the regional leaders’ ability to cut the national behemoths to size.

All of these are contests that are vital to a democracy — they will show what messages resonate most with the voter, and what factors guide his choices of who should govern him.

But if these messages are amplified or restricted by how much money is backing them, it cheats the voter, and it cheats India’s democracy.

It is time the BJP gives up its opposition to the spending cap on elections.

The image of a ‘kaamdaar’ taking on a ‘naamdaar’ is not very convincing when beamed from LED screens that required crores to be set up.

Also read: BJP knows it can’t form a government in Karnataka: This is what Modi-Shah actually want to tell voters

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