Parties’ unknown income rise despite electoral bonds | Data

Share of income from unknown sources to national parties was lower at 66% in the two years before the scheme compared to the 72% afterwards

November 07, 2023 09:26 am | Updated 10:44 am IST

A sample electoral bond issued by the State Bank of India. File photo: Special Arrangement

A sample electoral bond issued by the State Bank of India. File photo: Special Arrangement

Before the five judge Constitution Bench sat to hear the pleas challenging the validity of the electoral bonds scheme, Attorney General of India R. Venkataramani submitted in the Supreme Court that the scheme promotes contribution of “clean money” to political parties. This has been the government’s long standing claim that electoral bonds make political donations transparent while also protecting the identity of the donor.

However, the Bench raised a possible scenario wherein influential entities could purchase electoral bonds through verified accounts of other persons. Meanwhile, the petitioners have contended that unlimited and anonymous funding to political parties legitimises corruption.

Data published over the years by the Association of Democratic Reforms’ (ADR), one of the petitioners, through their annual reports show that the share of “unknown sources of income” has only increased after the introduction of the electoral bonds, the opposite of what the scheme was intended for.

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The ADR categorises the income of political parties into two primary categories: known and unknown. Known income is further divided into two subtypes — voluntary contributions over 20,000 with donor details provided to the ECI, and other known sources of income such as the sale of movable and immovable assets.

On the other hand, unknown income encompasses voluntary donations under 20,000, money obtained through electoral bonds, sales of coupons, and similar means where donor details remain undisclosed to the public.

Table 1 | The table shows the income of national parties from known and unknown sources. It also shows their share in the total income of parties.

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Table 1 indicates that the share of income from unknown sources for national parties rose from 66% in the FY15-FY17 period to 72% in the FY19-FY22 span. The data for FY18, the year the scheme was introduced, was excluded from the analysis. During this timeframe, the BJP saw an increase in its share of unknown income from 58% to 68%, whereas the Congress’ share consistently hovered around 80%. Also, the electoral bonds’ share formed 58% of the national parties’ total incomes in the FY19-FY22 period. More importantly, the electoral bonds’ share formed 81% of the national parties’ total income from unknown sources in the period.

Put together, not only did the unknown share of income go up after the introduction of electoral bonds but also the scheme was the major reason behind the rise. “Other known sources of income” was not considered while calculating total income in both periods as it is not dependent on donations.

BJP benefits

Chart 2 | The chart shows the party-wise income from electoral bonds in the past five years (in ₹ crore).

It is also pertinent to point out that the BJP has received a lion’s share of the income from electoral bonds. Between FY18 and FY22, the party has received 5,271 crores through electoral bonds, which is over 57% of income received by all parties through the scheme. Congress is a distant second at 10.4% as shown in Chart 2 . Except for FY21 — across all other years, BJP has received the most donations through this route.

Table 3 | The table shows the breakdown of the different unknown income sources for national parties in ₹ crore. 

The data suggest that after the scheme’s implementation, the composition of unknown income simply shifted from avenues such as donations under ₹20,000 and coupon sales to predominantly electoral bonds. As can be observed from the table, money coming through the < 20,000 voluntary contribution and coupon sales routes dwindled post the introduction of electoral bonds.

Source: Annual reports published by Association for Democratic Reforms

With inputs from Rebecca Rose Varghese,,

Also read |Data | Unknown sources of political income spiked after electoral bond entry, BJP cornered lion’s share

Listen to our podcast |How ‘The Hindu’ data team covers elections using night lights and census data | Data Point podcast

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