Data collated from the ‘Audited Annual Reports’ submitted by political parties to the ECI indicates that in the three years between 2017-18 and 2019-20, BJP received 68% of all the donations through ‘Electoral Bonds’, more than twice the amount received by all the other political parties put together. Anonymity of the EB donor remains the most contentious issue.
The XVII Phase of sale of ‘Electoral Bonds’ (EBs) was carried out during 01st and 10th July 2021 as a part of the Electoral Bond Scheme, 2018. As per the information received through an RTI filed with SBI, which is authorized by the Government of India to sell the EBs, a total of 465 EBs worth Rs.150.51 crores were sold and were completely redeemed by the political parties during this phase.
However, the information from SBI does not provide details of the political parties that have benefitted from these EBs. To ascertain the total quantity of EBs received & redeemed by a political party, one has to depend on the ‘Annual Audit reports’ submitted by the Political parties to the Election commission of India (ECI). In an earlier story, we highlighted the issue with the long delay in the submission of these reports by political parties. In other words, to know about the quantum of contribution received by political parties in 2019-20 (year ending March 2020), one had to wait till August 2021 which is almost 18 months after the end of 2019-20.
In fact, the greatest sale of EBs in 2019-20 was during April & May 2019 (coinciding with the Lok Sabha general elections) when EBs worth more than Rs. 3000 crores were redeemed. It is only after two full years that one is getting to know the beneficiary political party of these bonds.
For detailed data on Electoral Bonds sale, redemption, and political parties that received these bonds, go through our dedicated dashboard here.
Recently, India’s ruling party at the Centre, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) submitted its audited annual report for 2019-20. With this, all the recognized National Parties and most of the recognized State parties have submitted their audited annual reports for 2019-20 enabling the citizens to know the details of electoral bond beneficiaries in 2019-20.
In this story, we look at the trends in the receipt of these bonds and the political parties that benefitted most from this anonymous mode of contribution since its inception.
4 National Parties and 14 Recognized State parties benefitted from EBs in 2019-20
The number of political parties that received contributions through EBs has increased since the inception of the scheme. During the first year i.e., 2017-18, only two parties received donations through EBs. The two big national parties BJP & the Indian National Congress (INC) were the only beneficiaries in 2017-18.
In the following year 2018-19, two other national parties i.e., Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) & All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) received contributions in addition to BJP and INC taking the number of national parties that benefitted through EBs to four. Even in 2019-20, these four national parties have declared to have received contributions through EBs. Across these three years, none of the other three recognized National parties i.e., Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), CPI & CPI(M) have received any contributions through EBs as per their audited annual reports. Even the newest entrant in the national parties club, the National People’s Party, India (NPPI) has not disclosed any contribution through EBs.
In the case of recognized state parties, none of them received contributions via EBs in 2017-18 while seven of them received in 2018-19. These include the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), Shiv Sena, Janata Dal (Secular) – JD(S), Telugu Desam Party (TDP) & Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF).
In 2019-20, the number of recognized state parties that received contributions through EBs doubled to reach 14. This includes 8 new parties – Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Janata Dal (United) – JD(U), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP) & the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). The SDF which received funding through the EBs in 2018-19, did not receive any in 2019-20.
More than 68% of the total value of EBs redeemed up to 2019-20 went to the BJP
The total value of EBs redeemed from 2017-18 to 2019-20 is Rs. 6.19 thousand crores. Out of this, the value of EBs redeemed by BJP is Rs. 4.21 thousand crores. This is more than double the total amount received through EBs by the rest of the political parties. In other words, more than 68% of the EBs redeemed during these three years went to the BJP. The other major national party & the chief opposition party, the INC received a total of Rs. 706 crores i.e., 11.4% of the total.
The two regional parties of BJD & TRS received the next highest amount of donations through EBs, followed by AITC & YSRCP. In 2018-19, which had 7 phases of the sale of EBs, BJP received 57% of the EBs, while INC received around 15%.
In 2019-20, BJP’s share in the total EBs redeemed that year increased to 74.5%, while that of INC fell to around 9%. Even in terms of absolute value, the donations via EBs to the BJP increased from about Rs. 1450 crores in 2018-19 to Rs. 2555 crores in 2019-20.
Among Recognized State parties, EBs went to a select few who are mostly the ruling parties
Data for the three years from 2017-18 to 2019-20 makes it amply clear that the ruling parties are the primary & large-scale beneficiaries of the EBs. The BJP being the ruling party at the centre received a disproportionate 68% of all EBs redeemed in these three years, more than twice the amount received by all other political parties in the country.
Even among the other parties (national & state), the ruling parties were primary beneficiaries.
The INC being the major opposition party at Centre and the ruling party in a few states also received more than Rs. 700 crores in these three years.
The other national parties like the Trinamool Congress (AITC) & NCP are ruling parties or part of a ruling coalition in large states like West Bengal & Maharashtra. On the other side, parties like the BSP, CPI, CPI(M) are not in power anywhere except in Kerala where the left coalition is in power.
Since 2017-18, a total of 15 different recognized State parties have received donations through EBs. As per the information available with ECI, there are around 65 recognized State parties as of date. In other words, less than 30% of state parties received donations through EBs in the three-year period. In fact, a review of the beneficiary parties establishes the trend of ruling parties being the primary ones receiving EBs.
- BJD is the ruling party in Odisha and received the highest value of EBs after BJP & INC.
- TRS is the second-highest recipient among the State parties and it is the ruling party in Telangana. It is followed by YSRCP & TDP, the two major political parties in Andhra Pradesh, with TDP being the party in power prior to 2019 and YSRCP after the 2019 State assembly elections.
- Shiv Sena was part of the ruling coalition in Maharashtra & at the Centre, up until the Maharashtra assembly elections in 2019. From November 2019, it is a major partner in the current ruling coalition in Maharashtra with its president being the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. Incidentally, the most electoral bonds in terms of value are sold in Maharashtra.
- DMK & AIADMK (Tamil Nadu), JD(S) (Karnataka), JD(U) (Bihar), Samajwadi Party (UP), SAD (Punjab), AAP (Delhi) JMM (Jharkhand) & SDF (Sikkim) were the ruling parties either prior to or are after the assembly elections in the respective states while RJD is the principal opposition in Bihar.
These trends clearly indicate that even at the state level, the ruling parties are principal beneficiaries of EBs compared to the others.
Substantial increase in the income of Political Parties after the introduction of EBs
A review of the ‘Audited Annual Reports’ submitted by the political Parties indicates a steep increase in the income of Political parties after the introduction of EBs.
In the case of BJP, the income in 2015-16 was Rs. 570.86 crores which increased to Rs. 3623 crores in 2019-20. In other words, the income of the BJP increased six times in five years. The income of INC also increased though not at the same rate and extent as BJP.
The Trinamool Congress (AITC) whose income was Rs. 34.58 crores in 2015-16 reported an income of Rs. 192.66 crores in 2018-19 & Rs. 143.68 crores in 2019-20. This trend is similar across the other prominent recognized State parties. The BJD, TRS & YSRCP which are among the recognized State parties that received a higher value of EBs, also reported a substantial increase in income in 2018-19 and 2019-20 compared to 2015-16.
Even if 2014-15, the year of the previous Lok Sabha general elections is considered, there is a considerable increase in the income of most political parties in 2018-19 & 2019-20.
EBs are now the major contributor to Political parties substituting other modes
A closer scrutiny of the audit reports shows a clear shift in the type of contributions received by the Political Parties.
- In the case of BJP for the year 2015-16, a major portion of the voluntary contributions is listed under ‘Other Contributions’ which constituted 93% of all the voluntary contributions. Even in 2014-15, “Other Contributions” constituted around 93% of all the voluntary contributions. In comparison, during 2019-20, EBs constituted nearly 75% of all the voluntary contributions and “Other Contributions” reduced to around 6%
- In the case of INC for 2014-15, the major source income was under the head “Donations” without any detailed categorization. In 2019-20, while the value under “Donations” has reduced, a major portion of the income is through the EBs.
A review of other political parties also shows that the increase in income is due to EBs and there is also a shift from other forms of contributions to EBs. While this might look like a welcome trend that most donations are now through the banking system, it is just one anonymous form of donation replaced by another anonymous form with zero improvements in transparency.
The anonymity of the donor is still a contentious issue in the case of EBs
As highlighted earlier in the story, only a set of political parties are receiving contributions through the EBs. While BJP being the ruling party at the centre and in most states received a disproportionate amount of donations through EBs, a similar trend is observed across states where the ruling party benefitted from EBs.
As highlighted earlier, though the donations in the form of EBs are through the formal banking system, the most contentious issue of anonymity and hence zero transparency remains.
Further, the disproportionate sale of higher denomination EBs indicates that corporate donations could be the majority donations via EBs.
The lack of transparency on the source of donations raises serious questions on the nature of funding received by the political parties. Without the names of donors, it is impossible for the citizenry to know who is funding the political parties and if such donations are receiving any favours. While the Supreme Court is currently hearing this issue, it would be in the best interest of the country that the shield of anonymity surrounding electoral bonds is done away with. Parallelly, monthly information about the sale & names of donors of EBs must be made public.