Huge assumption to link ED raids with electoral bond purchases, says Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman

Poll bond funding scheme was not perfect, but helped move from a wild ‘law-unto-themselves’ system, she says

Updated - March 16, 2024 06:02 am IST

Published - March 15, 2024 09:25 pm IST - New Delhi

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. | Photo Credit: ANI

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on March 15 dismissed suggestions thatelectoral bonds were purchased by many corporates to “save themselves” from investigative agencies’ probes, arguing there is a probability that these bonds had been either transferred to regional parties or were donated to the ruling party before the said probes began.

Speaking at The India Today Conclave 2024, Ms. Sitharaman said it was a “huge assumption” that the money was given by firms after an Enforcement Directorate (ED) search. She was responding to a query whether bond purchases by 14 of the top 30 corporate electoral bond purchasers revealed so far, could be construed as a form of “protection” from probes they faced by some investigative agency.

Electoral bonds data | Full list of donors and recipient political parties

“For all you know, that money was given earlier and yet, we went knocking at their door. Am I making sense? No?!... What if the companies gave the money and after that, we still went and knocked at their doors through the ED… Is that a probability or not?” the Minister said.

“Second assumption in that is, are you sure they have given it to the BJP? They probably gave it to the regional parties. What makes you assume so many things and build a narrative? The government has given and the State Bank has done its job as per the orders of the Supreme Court. Now you do any hair splitting on it, but do it without assumptions of this nature,” she emphasised, adding that “smart hard-working research will do good rather than lazy journalism”.

Stressing that she was not criticising the Supreme Court’s verdict on electoral bonds, she admitted that the system was not perfect, but said her predecessor, late Arun Jaitley, had brought this scheme as an improvement over the previous system of electoral funding.

“Was the system before this 100% perfect? No… At least the funds that go to parties must go through accounts that is why electoral bonds’ money is going from accounts to party accounts. At least, the money that reaches a party, whichever party it is, reaches in white form. It’s not a perfect system but you have moved from a ‘wild law-unto-themselves’ kind of a system, where everybody did what they wanted,” she said.

“A system which is not perfect from a system which was completely imperfect, was consciously brought in so at least one aspect of it would be cleaner. Now, in the wisdom of the Supreme Court, they thought this is not the way to go about it. Alright. Till a better system comes, what is there? We have returned to the old era that ‘do as you feel like - pay in cash, cheque, or give something else’,” the Minister said.

Any future law on electoral funding must incorporate the lessons from this episode, Ms. Sitharaman said, underlining that “transparency will have to be progressively better” than each earlier system.

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