New Delhi: On August 21, 2017, finance ministry officials made a presentation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the electoral bonds scheme. After the meeting, the officials dropped the idea of sharing details of the scheme with political parties. But it has now come to light that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was aware of the contours of the scheme even before that. In fact, four days prior to this presentation, the BJP general secretary wrote to then-finance minister Arun Jaitley about the proposal and his party’s suggestions in the matter.
According to documents obtained under the Right to Information Act by activist Commodore Lokesh K. Batra (retired), in a two-page letter on August 17, 2017, BJP general secretary Bhupendra Yadav had written to the finance minister in detail about the scheme and also made certain demands regarding it.
‘BJP knew about electoral bond structure’
Questioning how the BJP came to know about the “EB structure that was being planned” before it was even circulated to the political parties, Batra said the letter clearly reflects that the saffron party was “completely in the know of how the EBs are being structured”.
He said many of the details mentioned in the letter only became part of the electoral bond structure at the final draft stage and yet the BJP knew about them much before. He said this letter was sent when the “draft structure was not even prepared”.
‘When officials wanted to share draft with parties, FM was silent’
Batra said while government officials “wanted to share the basic draft with political parties there was silence from the finance minister” in this regard.
In the letter, the BJP general secretary first congratulated the minister for “coming out with this path-breaking and innovative scheme to cleanse the political system by bringing in clean money”. He then spoke about how “this Electoral Bonds scheme will be a decisive step” in that direction.
“The Electoral Bonds scheme,” Yadav said, “will usher a new paradigm in political funding in India. With honest tax paid funds, donors can give donation to any political party of their choice”.
BJP demanded identity of donors be kept secret
The BJP also raised certain demands through the letter. It said, “The new electoral bond scheme should only allow funding by donors who have cleared KYC checks proposed on their purchase and payment should be made only by account payee cheques or by electronic clearing systems or digital systems.” Further, it demanded that “to enable and encourage people of all strata to participate in the process”, the scheme should protect their identities from being disclosed.
On the issue of confidentiality, it said, this was one of the “key concerns” and elaborated that “many companies have been unable to join the political funding process because of the fear of disclosure of their identities if they made payment by way of cheques or demand drafts.”
‘Companies feared facing reprisals’
The party clearly stated that “some companies feared facing reprisals” from “political parties – whether in or out of power.”
The letter also revealed that the BJP was aware then that “it has been assured that banks issuing the electoral bonds will not disclose the identity of the contributors”. However, it added that “electoral bonds should be issued without any serial number or identification marks that can be used later on to identify the contributor.”
BJP also said “bonds should also be available in denominations of Rs 2,000, Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 in addition to higher denominations,” indicating it knew about the denominations being planned.
The party also made a number of other demands pertaining to electoral bonds. These included the demand that a “political party should not be (held) responsible to ensure that the donor is not a foreign source, since, we will not have the identity of the donor. This responsibility of checking foreign source should be on the bank issuing the bonds.”
The letter by the BJP general secretary also hoped that the finance minister would come out with a scheme of electoral bonds at the earliest.
Earlier, The Wire had reported how following the presentation made to the prime minister, a striking part of the note made for it, was totally struck off. Point three of the note, which bore the signature of joint secretary (budget) in the department of economic affairs Prashant Goel was largely cut off. The portion, which was omitted in the final draft, read:
“Whether consultation with political parties needs to be carried out on the proposed scheme? If yes, whether the draft scheme may be circulated to all national and state parties with a 15 days window to submit draft comments?”