Satire | Bias against electoral bonds

‘When people with no idea of India’s ancient traditions of extortion and bribery pontificate on the matter’

Updated - March 22, 2024 04:39 pm IST

Published - March 22, 2024 02:22 pm IST

‘These are immoral practices for ordinary people like you and me but kosher for our rulers.’

‘These are immoral practices for ordinary people like you and me but kosher for our rulers.’ | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The electoral bond, like yoga and zero, is one of the great innovations of Indic genius — it’s our gift to human civilisation. Sadly, the judiciary and the media have turned it into a joke.

The other day, for instance, we were driving through Lutyens’ Delhi on our way to dropping a visiting friend at his hotel. As we turned into a tree-lined avenue with beautiful mansions on either side, Kattabomman piped up. “Papa, who lives in these houses?”

“Rich people with tonnes of money,” I said.

“You mean, people who buy electoral bonds?”

“What?” I was zapped. “Who told you about electoral bonds?”

He wouldn’t answer. I looked at his mother, and found her diligently avoiding my eyes. My suspicion was confirmed soon enough.

Spreading disaffection

As we approached Janpath, we saw barricades. I slowed down and asked one of the constables why they had blocked the road.

Koi foreign prime minister aa raha hai,” he said.

“You are going to catch him?” our friend wanted to know.

As the cop gaped at him, Wife quipped from the backseat, “Don’t let him leave India until he buys electoral bonds.”

“Both of you, stop it!” I said. “If this was America, the cop would have asked you to step out of the vehicle and lie flat on the ground before arresting you and putting you in cuffs.”

“Really?” Wife said. “On what charges?”

“Spreading disaffection by mocking electoral bonds,” I said.

Seriously, it’s appalling to find all kinds of busybodies — people with no idea of India’s ancient traditions of extortion and bribery — pontificating on electoral bonds. What’s galling is that none of them could even tell you the difference between bribery and extortion.

Subject of Vedic debates

In fact, who has a right to bribe and extort, and who doesn’t, was one of the hottest debates among Vedic jurists. According to Jaitleyashastra, the canonical legal treatise dating back to 2017 BCE, it is prohibited for commoners to offer or receive bribes, and the punishments prescribed include freezing of their bank accounts to -27 degrees. But the king, however, has the right to seek bribes as well as extort donations. The Chanda Purana states categorically that it is part of a businessman’s dharma to donate regularly to the king. Any businessman or trader who fails to voluntarily make generous donations is subject to raids by the ED wing of the King’s Guard.

This column is a satirical take on life and society.

It is, however, the 6,000-year-old Hafta Samhita that first distinguished between bribery and extortion — a distinction that is still followed in modern jurisprudence. Bribery, according to the Hafta Samhita, is when someone pays a king’s official for preferential or “better than fair” treatment. The giver and the taker are equal participants. Extortion is when a king’s official seeks a donation using the threat of harm or unfair treatment. Here, the king’s official is the active agent while the payer is a coerced respondent — classified as ‘victim’ in today’s jurisprudence. Significantly, all the three — Jaitleyashastra, Chanda Purana and Hafta Samhita — are clear that bribery and extortion are legal so long as they fall within the dharmic morality of the parties involved. That’s why they are immoral practices for ordinary people like you and me but kosher for our rulers — be they politicians or businessmen.

As the great Indic text on good governance, The Bond Sutra, puts it, “O Partha, happy are the businessmen for whom purchase of electoral bonds comes naturally, opening the doors to heavenly riches. If, however, thou doth not performeth thine religious duty of donating to the king, then wilt thou incur the wrath of the central agencies and people shall speaketh of thine infamy.” (Vol 2, Chapter 4, verse 27, translated by Monika).

Given the weight of historical and textual evidence that points to extortion and bribery being a part of our parampara, it’s astonishing how deeply — and uncritically — we have imbibed western prejudices about them. I still have fond memories of my school days in Kolkata when, around Durga Puja, gangs of hooligans from The Party would aggressively knock on our doors and demand chanda for Durga Ma. We would happily donate — who wouldn’t, for their beloved deity?

Electoral bonds are nothing but an avenue — duly anonymised for the shy ones — to express one’s love for the king, who is but an instrument of god on earth. Those who have money buy electoral bonds; those who don’t, vote. Sure, this means the king might listen more to the money-givers than the vote-givers, but who said the world is fair?

The author of this satire, is Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu.

sampath.g@thehindu.co.in

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