Electoral mal-practices

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The political fiasco in Karnataka serves important lessons that do not get settled with the formation of the government. The manner in which constitutional posts were abused to bypass propriety and ethics was one question that needs to be dealt with. The other is the brazen attempts to woo over the legislators allegedly in lieu of money, which points out to the excessive use of money power by political parties for power struggle. Karnataka is not the first time it has happened. Every hung assembly brings the country face to face with the horrifying reality of horse-trading and bid by contending parties to herd their legislators and search for resorts where they can be preserved till the floor test while trying for ways to woo independents and legislators from the opponent camps. Exorbitant sums of money is spent in election campaigning and often government formations. BJP is not the only party to bring in money power to make the business of politics dirty, though its ability to harvest and spend money for pure power struggle surpasses all other political parties. Bringing in laws to check defection, horse-trading and electoral mal-practices may be one way of dealing with this trend. But as long as human mind is fertile enough to circumvent laws, this may remain by and large ineffective. It is the electoral financing of all Indian political parties that needs to be brought under the scanner. For years, the nexus between political parties and the corporate world has thrived in the absence of mechanisms of accountability with respect to the funding received by political parties. The old practice of exempting business houses from income tax for 4% donation to any political party from their profits was hiked up to 7% in recent years. At present, there is 100% secrecy on the kind of funds received by political parties from big business houses. A new law under the present BJP government has enabled individuals to make large sums of political donations anonymously by purchasing electoral bonds from banks in favour of political parties and has completely eliminated the limits on corporate funding. Foreign contribution laws have been amended to revoke the ban on political parties from receiving foreign funding after the two main political parties – BJP and Congress – were found guilty of breaking the law by a Delhi court in 2014 by receiving funding from multi-national companies. This law shockingly paved the way for any foreign company to donate any amount of money to Indian parties through their subsidiaries operating in India. Instead of making the electoral funding transparent, the fresh laws have ensured that the funds received by political parties since decades cannot be investigated. This has not only allowed political parties, especially those in power, to become cash rich and resort to money laundering for the sheer purpose of electoral gains but has also allowed foreign firms to influence the political decisions of the country and its political system, which is already rigged in the favour of the financially powerful. The argument of the government that such rules would ensure greater transparency stands on a flimsy ground as a cap of mere Rs 2000 on individual donations. Effectively, there is no cap on the number of such contributions, and there are plenty of opportunities to fudge receipts, allowing parties to take in an unlimited number of donations less than Rs 2000. The need to introduce laws for building up mechanisms of transparency to make each and very penny accountable has long been felt. Instead in the name of transparency, the Modi government has made electoral financing in India even more opaque with a series of measures that undermine democracy and people’s faith in it. The ruling party as well as other political parties cannot go raving and ranting about corruption and black money when such channels that continue dole secret funding to different parties are virtually legalised with unanimity and impunity. To deal with the electoral mal-practices, the business of party funding needs to be made accountable.