By Poonam I Kaushish
Q: What turns black money into white?
A: A political Party’s washing machine.
This my dear readers is the sum total of the Modi Government’s latest order Friday last exempting Parties from depositing the banned old Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes in their bank accounts from income tax and subsequent investigation if the deposited amount is below Rs 20,000. Reminiscent of the Orwellian dictum: Some our more equal than others.
Worse, adding salt to people’s misery asserted Revenue Secretary, “if money is deposited in individual’s account then that information will come into our radar. If the individual is putting money in his own account, then we will get information.” Read face harassment even if his money is legit. Sic.
Shockingly, this brazen immunity come against the backdrop of ‘inspector raj’ against the aam kala dhan generators and hoarders with numerous seizures and arrests being reported daily even as serpentine queues continue outside banks and ATMs with nearly 100 deaths therein. So much for ensuring a corruption free society.
Questionably, does this not tantamount to cash apartheid? In a democracy which is based on equality for all can the State have double standards and different rules for various categories? Can it compartmentalize people? Netas vs the rest? Protect the former and harass the latter?
What makes our political Parties special that they should be exempt? Are they dhood ka dhula? When our leaders merrily accept black money, how can we expect them to take honest action against themselves for the very same black money?
Undoubtedly, this order defies logic and raises a question mark on the aim, target and intention of the NDA Sarkar to unearth black money at any cost. Given the root cause of corruption and kala dhan is our election process. Wherein candidates spend crores of unaccounted cash to fight polls. An evil that feeds and nurtures all other forms of illegal cash in the system.
In a milieu where we treat our leaders as undataas enjoying unfettered God-like immunity what else can one expect. Aren’t we accustomed to a corrupt and unaccountable polity who could stoop to anything for paisa and gaddi?
Consequently, Parties blithely use this lacuna to launder black money by putting it in their bank accounts and saying they got it (less than Rs 20,000) from small donors. Section 13A of Income Tax Act allows Parties exemptions from declaring the source of a donation under heads including ‘income from house’, ‘income from other sources’ and voluntary contributions received from any person.
Remember BSP supremo Mayawati who rewrote the grammar of ‘cow belt’ politics and corrupt rules by ‘cashing’ in on her fans devotion when she was garlanded with Rs 1000 notes totaling Rs 5.25 crores in massive celebrations organized to celebrate 25 years of her Party in 2010. Notwithstanding, the Supreme Court reopened the Taj Corridor scam case earlier this year even as it dismissed the disproportionate assets case accusing her of amassing 72 immovable properties and over 50 bank accounts with Rs 21 crores in 2012.
This not all. Believe it or not, only 11.89 per cent of Congress’s total funding of Rs 774 crore and 22.76 per cent of BJP income in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 of Rs 426 crore came from donations above Rs 20,000, according to reports submitted to the EC.
The CPI(M) said only Rs. 1.93 crores were above Rs.20,000 and BSP averred it received zilch contributions over Rs.20,000! No matter, the Congress received Rs. 2,008 crore, BJP Rs. 994 crore, BSP Rs. 484 crore, CPI(M) Rs. 417 crore and SP Rs. 279 crore between 2004-05 and 2010-11.
Undeniably, these donations from undisclosed sources, aka black money run through the veins of all Parties. Surprisingly, not one Opposition Party has uttered a word on this order and political black money. It wasn’t expected as it wound tantamount to the pot calling the kettle black. Confessed a senior BJP leader, “Is kake dhan ke hamam main hum chor chor mauseri bhai hain.”
More scandalous, Parties keep no record of donations less than Rs 20,000 and only those above this amount are reported to the Election Commission. In fact, an analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch recently shows that about 75 per cent of the sources of funds to Parties remain unknown. Moreover, it is not difficult to make backdated donation receipts. This defeats the entire purpose of black money operation.
Further, trust our polity to trash a landmark Delhi High Court judgment in March that Parties should satisfy the requirement of the Income Tax Act, 1961, for maintaining properly audited accounts of income received through voluntary contributions. If this is not done, it could not claim exemption from paying income tax on these contributions.
Adding that proper auditing of Party accounts was imperative and critical for free and fair elections, as they dealt in large sums of public money. This would also infuse transparency and accountability into their functioning as it disposed of an appeal filed by the Congress for exemption from income tax for the assessment year 1994-95.
In fact, the Election Commission too in August 2014 had issued transparency guidelines for Parties invoking its powers under Article 324 whereby it asked them to file annual audited accounts with it. This, it felt was necessary to maintain transparency and provide a level playing field to all contestants to ensure free and fair elections and perhaps help end the scourge of black money which vitiates the purity of polls.
Sadly, like previous orders this too was water off a ducks back with Parties continuing to ignore and play hard ball. Primarily, because elections are perceived as a “rentier” profession, with huge post-poll rewards, to amass wealth for their Parties, themselves and future elections too. Any wonder the economics of running an election campaign are a hush-hush affair.
Like politics, elections have become a business — like businessmen the politicians in the election business balk at the idea of controls and regulations. That is why no Party, however vocal about the matter while in opposition, has made a sincere attempt at stanching the flow of black money into the electoral arena.
Notably, Parties will continue to stonewall efforts to clean up the “black”. Hence irrespective of whether a Party is in power, donations must be made public as the aam janata has the right to know whether a Party’s stand on a policy is influenced by the source of its funding.
Clearly, Prime Minister Modi owes an answer to the aam aadmi on his Government’s cash apartheid In sum, unless the opaque political funding are brought under the tax radar all measures of the Government to unearth black money will total a big zero. Will our leaders say goodbye to the politics of sabse bada rupaiya?
Towards that end, there must be compulsory social audit of political funding by the EC. Corruption cannot be ended if the way Parties are funded does not change. Until they make transparent collection and spend money, corruption will thrive and corrode accountability in the system. We need to stop them from functioning as private limited companies, each with its own secret war cheats. Else say goodbye to black becoming white! —— INFA