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Govt of India's 'dubious' Electoral Bonds sale move after EC's Model Code advisory

By Rosamma Thomas* 

Commodore Lokesh Batra, veteran of the Indian Navy who has consistently campaigned for transparency in decision-making by the government, in a letter to Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar on November 14, 2023, pointed to the violation of the Model Code of Conduct by the Union government in announcing the sale of electoral bonds between November 6 and 20, 2023.
The Election Commission (EC) had issued a press release on October 9, 2023, announcing the schedule of assembly election elections in the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana. The press note mentioned, citing Para 17 of the Model Code of Conduct: 
“The Model Code of Conduct comes into effect immediately from the announcement of schedule. All the provisions of the Model Code will apply to the whole of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana with regard to all candidates, political parties and the government of the said state. The Model Code of Conduct shall also be applicable to the Union governments in so far as announcements, policy decisions to/for Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana are concerned.”
Commodore Batra asserts that the Electoral Bonds scheme is a policy decision of the Government of India, and announcement of the pan-India sale of the bonds after the schedule of elections was announced on October 9 is a clear case of violation of the Model Code of Conduct, with the bonds sold even in states where polling is scheduled.
The Electoral Bonds scheme is under challenge in the Supreme Court of India. The scheme allows anonymous donation to political parties, and does not bar corporate or foreign donations. It also imposes no rules to channel the funds into specific uses, posing a threat to democracy in India. 
Commodore Batra, through Right to Information applications, has shown that over 95% of the donations are through bonds of Rs 1 crore value, so the donations are not by ordinary Indians, but mainly wealthy citizens or corporate donors. 
The scheme, introduced in 2018, has been used to make donations of nearly Rs15,000 crore to political parties, with nearly 60% of it going to the ruling BJP. This is a huge sum, when compared with the spending limits imposed for candidates contesting elections – in January 2022, the Election Commission raised the poll expenditure limits in assembly elections in big states to Rs40 lakh from the previous limit of Rs28 lakh; in smaller states, the limit was raised to Rs28 lakh from the earlier Rs 20 lakh. 
Given the upper ceiling of expenditure, the question of how political parties would spend funds garnered in excess of the total limit for all candidates they field remains.
Activists have argued that the opacity of the donations, with citizens having no right to know the source of funds for political parties, undermines the very basis of democracy and informed citizenship. 
These fears are compounded as those raising questions about the massive increase in the profits of Adani Group are punished – whether journalists or politicians – while public sector firms like Life Insurance Corporation with a sterling record of service to the people of India suffer erosion.
---
*Freelance journalist

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