The Congress staged a walkout in Lok Sabha on Thursday after party MP Manish Tewari’s microphone was turned off in the middle of his Zero Hour mention on electoral bonds.
The Rajya Sabha, within minutes of assembling in the morning, was adjourned until noon as opposition parties objected to Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu’s decision to not permit a discussion on electoral bonds, eviction of forest dwellers, and privatisation of state-owned firms.
Addressing the media later in the evening, hours after the Congress demanded a joint parliamentary committee inquiry into the “opaque” donations, Union minister Piyush Goyal hit back at the main opposition party. He said that an “alliance of defeated and dejected corrupt politicians” do not want clean, tax-paid transparent money to fund elections.
“Electoral bonds brought in honest money in electoral politics. People who are revolting against electoral bonds have grown used to black money and believe in its usage during elections,” he said. “An alliance of defeated and dejected parties who do not want transparency in political donations are now trying to mislead people raising baseless charges.”
Earlier in the day, immediately after papers were laid in the Upper House, Naidu said he had received notices from Congress MPs Mohamed Ali Khan and B K Hariprasad on reservations expressed by the RBI on electoral bonds, from CPI leader K K Ragesh on eviction of forest dwellers, and from CPI’s Elamaram Kareem on disinvestment of government stake in state-owned firms.
“I have gone through this, and decided not to admit them because they do not warrant suspension of other business and taking this up on priority,” Naidu said, evoking sharp responses from the Opposition.
In Lok Sabha, as the House assembled, the Congress demanded a discussion. Speaker Om Birla objected to Tewari mentioning the role of “PMO” — the Prime Minister’s Office — in matters of electoral bonds. “You can’t name anyone,” Birla said, and Tewari’s microphone was turned off.
As Tewari continued to speak, Sonia was seen getting up and proceeding to walk out, following which other Congress MPs joined her. The rest of the Opposition, such as TMC and DMK, remained seated.
Tewari said that the Centre had, through electoral bonds, made “government corruption official”, and that the earlier regulation over influence of the rich on politics was no longer present. “Despite reservations expressed by RBI and Election Commission, the government went ahead with introduction of electoral bonds,” he said. Tewari said the scheme was such that people would not know who is the donor, who is the receiver, and how much money has been given.
Later in the evening, Goyal told the media, “Allegations against the government over electoral bonds are baseless. In fact, the Narendra Modi government has, for the first time, taken a number of steps against corruption. The Election Commission has seized crores of rupees from Congress leaders; they have been corrupt and have used black money extensively.”
He said, “It is unique that those who are themselves immersed in corruption are opposing it the most. There have been cases earlier of Prime Ministers allegedly accepting suitcases of cash, of various scams, including Bofors, Jeep, 2G, Coalgate, etc. In all these, the Congress party has been involved. It is natural that they will oppose a system which is cleaning the electoral process…”
Goyal said there had been consultations between RBI and the EC on the electoral bonds issue. According to him, between the passing of the Finance Bill on March 31, 2017, and Notification of the Electoral Bond Scheme on January 2, 2018, there were multiple interactions between RBI and the government.
“To ensure there is no misuse of electoral bonds, the encashment can be done by only qualified registered parties and within 15 days,” he added.