Electoral bonds | Biggest beneficiaries claim inability to reveal donor names

BJP said it did not maintain donor records as scheme rules did not require it; Congress, TMC asked SBI for donor details; DMK, JD(S), AIADMK released full list of donors; partial info from AAP, NCP, others

March 17, 2024 11:17 pm | Updated March 18, 2024 12:48 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The BJP, the largest recipient of electoral bonds, justified its move not to reveal the names of donors by citing the rules framed under the electoral bonds scheme that the SC has struck down as unconstitutional. File

The BJP, the largest recipient of electoral bonds, justified its move not to reveal the names of donors by citing the rules framed under the electoral bonds scheme that the SC has struck down as unconstitutional. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Most large recipients of funding via electoral bonds, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress, and the Trinamool Congress have not shared any details about their donors, in submissions made to the Election Commission of India (ECI) under the direction of the Supreme Court in May 2019 and November 2023.

This came to light on Sunday when the ECI published the data previously submitted to it by political parties in sealed covers under the top court’s directions. In fact, only a handful of parties have revealed their electoral bond donors’ identities in their entirety; these parties include the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and Janata Dal (Secular).

No record maintained: BJP

The BJP, the largest recipient of electoral bonds, justified its move not to reveal the names of donors by citing the rules framed under the electoral bonds scheme that the SC has struck down as unconstitutional. These rules, it said, precluded parties from having to maintain donor details, and so it claimed that it had not maintained a record of these particulars.

Some of the other parties that did not supply donor details also noted that the scheme was designed in such a way that they did not have ready access to donor information, as these were essentially bearer bonds. The details will only be available with the authorised bond issuer, the State Bank of India (SBI), they said.

For full coverage | Making sense of the electoral bonds data

Asked SBI for donor info: Congress, TMC

The Congress and Trinamool Congress, in their 2019 disclosures, said that they had specifically asked the SBI to provide them with details of the donors’ names. In response to the former’s request, the SBI had written back in June 2019, saying, “The particulars of a donated EB [electoral bond] is available with the respective donee/political party.”

In their updated disclosures for the period till September 2023, the Trinamool Congress again said that the information on donors was only available with the SBI, while the Congress noted that it had requested the bank yet again to provide this information to the ECI in compliance with the SC’s directions. It is not clear if the SBI responded again to that missive from the Congress.

Partial revelations

Regional players like the Telugu Desam party, YSR Congress, Bharat Rashtra Samithi, and Biju Janata Dal also did not reveal their bond donors. Others, such as the Aam Aadmi Party, the Nationalist Congress Party, and the Janata Dal (United) only revealed donor names from the start of the electoral bond scheme in 2018 till May 2019. In some cases, only some of the donors’ names were disclosed for bond sales till 2019.

However, donor names were not shared by these parties subsequently, when the court asked for updated bond receipt details for the period up to September 30, 2023. When political parties submitted their first set of information to the ECI, around May 2019, the country was in the midst of the last Lok Sabha polls.

The BJP, in its affidavit, also released data on electoral bonds that were donated to the party till May 10, 2019, and encashed by it. As per the affidavit, for the bond issuance window from May 6 to May 10, 2019, donations to the BJP were a whopping 86.1% of the total donations for this period.

Two datasets

The information released by the ECI on Sunday contained two sets of data. One tranche is the information that political parties had submitted to the poll body in 2019, in response to an SC order directing them to supply all electoral bonds-related information, including donor names, from the inception of the scheme till May 15, 2019.

The other data set contained updated information on such bond receipts till September 30, 2023, filed by them with the ECI. A review of both of these data sets showed that in neither of the cases did all of the parties furnish all of the information they had been directed to supply.

Anonymous donations: SP, JD(U)

The Samajwadi Party, which had partially disclosed donor information in its 2019 filings, chose not to disclose any such information in its 2023 filings, saying that such information is only maintained by the issuing authority. The same was the case with the NCP, AAP, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, which revealed donor information in 2019 filings, but did not do so in their later submissions.

In the partial disclosures from 2019 too, many parties like the JD(U) and the SP did not disclose the names of some of their biggest donors, citing anonymous donations. In one instance, the SP recorded receiving 10 bonds worth a total of ₹10 crore, but goes on to say these came by post without any name on May 7, 2019.

Similarly, the JD(U) recorded the receipt of bonds worth ₹10 crore without disclosing the name of the donor. It said against these entries: “Somebody came to our office on 03-04-2019 at Patna and handed over a sealed envelope and when it was opened, we found a bunch containing 10 Electoral Bonds of ₹1 crore each.”

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